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MS and Sleep Disorders

By Matt Cavallo

In addition to being a writer, I am also a motivational speaker who travels the country speaking to groups about my patient experience living with multiple sclerosis. In my travels, I am fortunate to have met so many of you who share the same struggles that I do living with MS. One of the common themes among the patients that I have talked to is sleep disorders. Many say that the chronic fatigue they experience with MS leads to problems with sleep. They also mention that they have trouble staying awake during the day, but are wide awake at night. This interruption of sleep cycle is can greatly affect all areas of a person’s life. In this article, we will explore the relationship between MS and sleep disorders.

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms reported with multiple sclerosis, occurring in about 80 percent of people living with MS. Fatigue can cause problems at home, in personal relationships and at work. The effects of chronic fatigue can spill out of the home and into everyday life, affecting performance and decision making that could lead to termination of employment. Fatigue can also impair driving ability and other tasks that require concentration and clear thinking. Probably one of the most understated effects of chronic fatigue is the affect it has on moods and how those mood swings can be damaging to personal relationships.

Healthline reports that, “getting a better night’s sleep can help you fight related fatigue, as well as battle the physical toll MS can take on your body.” The Healthline report goes on to suggest that establishing a sleep routine can help reduce fatigue and the physical toll that that MS can take on you. The problem with establishing a sleep routine is that many of us have problems falling asleep. We are tired during the day, but as soon as the lights go off, we are wide awake. Have you ever found yourself telling someone that you are just too tired to sleep?

If this sounds like you, then you may have a sleep disorder. A common sleep disorder associated with MS is narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a central nervous system disease which causes periods of sleeplessness, sleep attacks and extreme daytime drowsiness. According to a separate Healthline report, “The Center for Narcolepsy at Stanford University School of Medicine reports that one in every 2,000 Americans has narcolepsy.” Recent research shows that brain lesions associated with MS can be a contributing cause to an onset of narcolepsy. Dr. Rosenberg, a sleep medicine specialist, reports, “MS is listed as the fourth most common cause of narcolepsy that is associated with other disorders.”

Narcolepsy can also cause comorbid conditions like cataplexy. According to the National Niemann-Pick Disease Foundation, “cataplexy is an abrupt temporary loss of voluntary muscular function and tone, evoked by an emotional stimulus such as laughter, pleasure, anger, or excitement.” For those of you with a sleep disorder and MS, cataplexy can strike at the most inopportune moments like during sexual intercourse due to the emotional stimulus. There is a probability that if you have a sleep disorder and MS that sexual activity can trigger a narcoleptic response. If your partner does not understand the disease, then the potential exists for your partner to feel like they are the problem. Even though it is tough to discuss intimacy with your partner, communication is critical when MS leads to sexual dysfunction.

While narcolepsy is a common sleep disorder with MS, there are also other sleep disorders that you may experience as well including insomnia, rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, restless leg syndrome and frequent urination. There are also sleep breathing disorders which may prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep.

If you have MS and suffer from a sleep disorder, all is not lost. There are many treatment options, including holistic alternatives. Please tell your doctor immediately if you suffer from a sleep disorder. You may qualify for a sleep study, which allows a doctor to monitor you while you sleep to evaluate what is happening to your brain and body during sleep. Whatever the cause of your disorder, treating it will go a long way to helping you in your battle with MS.