Some studies suggest that people with MS experience sleep disturbances up to 3x more than the general population, and are 2x as liked to experience reduced quality of sleep. Because MS affects the nervous system, these disturbances typically manifest with body processes related to appendage movement, bladder control, and breathing.
According to a study led by W. Elon Fleming, MD, at the Sleep Disorders Center at Island Hospital in Anacortes, Washington, the most common sleep disorders in MS patients are nocturnal leg spasms, insomnia, REM sleep behavior disorder, narcolepsy, and sleep disordered breathing. Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is also highly prevalent among MS patients.
Those disorders can briefly be described as:
1. Nocturnal leg spasms: moving legs involuntarily during sleep
2. Insomnia: trouble staying asleep or falling asleep
3. REM sleep behavior disorder: the paralysis that normally occurs during REM sleep is incomplete or absent, allowing the person to “act out” his or her dreams
4. Narcolepsy: overwhelming daytime drowsiness or falling asleep uncontrollably
5. Sleep Disordered Breathing: breathing is interrupted during sleep which results in reduced oxygen flow and can cause snoring and frequent awakening
6. Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): irresistible urge to move the legs
Any person without additional stressors on their body could experience lack of focus, slower response time, and poor cognitive function in the absence of a good night’s rest. But for a person with MS, deficiencies in Vitamin D, side effects from MS medications, increased napping during the day as a result of fatigue, reduced physical activity, stress, anxiety, and depression can also prevent quality REM cycles.
When you add up all of the factors that prevent a good night’s sleep, it’s no wonder it can be so difficult to achieve. Over 50% of people living with multiple sclerosis report sleep problems, however, there are some tricks that may help alleviate the pain when it comes to sleeping.