by Geri Walton ~ January 25th, 2009
People affected by multiple sclerosis or MS often have trouble sleeping. In fact, one study showed that MS sufferers have significantly higher sleep problems than the general population or other chronic disease sufferers. Lack of sleep has the potential to worsen MS symptoms, and, for that reason, it is particularly important MS sufferers get a good night’s rest. Sometimes natural sleep remedies may help.
MS sufferers often have sleep problems, but they may be caused by secondary factors, such as sleep apnea, depression, spasticity, or nighttime urination, rather than being directly related to MS. Prescription medications can sometimes help improve sleep. However, some people may have concerns about side effects, may not want to take prescription medications, or may want to try alternative treatments or natural cures first.
If you decide you want to look at natural sleep remedies, the first thing you should probably do is ensure you are following these common sense tips. If you’re not, it may be helpful to incorporate these ideas first because the following ideas are common reasons why people often don’t get a good night’s rest.
- Alcoholic Beverages. Alcohol can keep some people awake. If it bothers you, then avoid drinking alcoholic beverages at least four hours before bedtime.
- Beverage Intake. Too many beverages or water too close to bedtime can increase a person’s chances of nighttime urination. Therefore, one way to avoid it is to reduce beverage intake in the evening by not drinking beverages two to three hours before bedtime.
- Caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and may keep some people awake. If it bothers you the suggestion is to not consume caffeine at least four hours before bedtime.
- Exercise. Exercising too late in the day may cause you to be energized at bedtime. So, it may be best to exercise no later than about three or four hours before bedtime.
- Pets. Make sure your pets are NOT sleeping in bed with you. The medical director at Mayo Clinic’s Sleep Disorders Center, John Shepard, M.D., did a study of 300 people and discovered 157 of them had a pet. Of those people, between 57 and 60 percent allowed the pet in bed, and “53 percent considered their sleep to be disrupted to some extent every night.”
- Naps. If naps interfere with nighttime sleep, then don’t take them during the daytime.
- Need to Urinate. If nightime urination is a problem, go to the bathroom before you go to bed.
- No Routine. Try to maintain a set routine: Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, even on weekends. Routines reinforce sleep patterns and make it more likely you’ll sleep.
- Tobacco. Similar to caffeine or exercise, tobacco and nicotine products may keep you awake, so do you’re best bet is to avoid such things too close to bedtime.
- TV. Sleep experts usually suggest you avoid watching TV or reading in bed because it disrupts sleep patterns, and, if you’re having sleep problems, it’s probably a good thing to avoid.
If you are already doing those things and still having sleep issues, here are some more in-depth ideas that may help.
- Aromatherapy. Although there seems to be no specific studies about aromatherapy in relation to MS, Roman chamomile is considered a relaxant and may restore proper sleep patterns according to aromatherapists. Lavender, mandarin, melissa, sweet marjoram, vetiver, and ylang ylang may also help sleep problems. Suggestions on how to use these oils include adding them to a bath, burning them in a diffuser, or diluting them with water and spritzing your bedroom. You can also add a few drops to creams or lotions and massage them into the skin. If you’re interested in creating essential oil blends for insomnia, click here. However, before using essential oils, read Essential Oil Safety Tips.
- Breathing. If you are anxious or stressed, breathing patterns are usually not normal because instead of breathing from the diaphragm, people tend to breath from the upper part of their lungs. If you’re unsure whether you are breathing properly, put one hand on your diaphragm (the lower part of your stomach near the rib cage) and the other hand on your chest. Notice where each breath comes from and determine if it is from the chest or the diaphragm. If you are breathing from the chest, sit quietly and practice breathing from the diaphragm each day for five or ten minutes.
- Daylight. Although it is not clearly understood how daylight may help, for some reason, some MS sufferers have insomnia because of a lack of daylight exposure. So, one possible thing to try is getting plenty of bright light during the day; however, if you do go in the sun, make sure you limit your exposure to no more than about twenty minutes to protect yourself from UV rays.
- Melatonin. The This Is MS forum suggests melatonin, and they cite several studies and have several posts with the all the particulars on why they believe it helps. Here’s the link. However, there’s also this 137-page report that seems to indicate it probably doesn’t help.
- Relax. If you find it’s bedtime and you are wound up or stressed out, practice relaxation techniques. One CD that may help is Natural Restful Sleep, created by Dr. Martin L. Rossman, a physician and acupuncturist who has practiced holistic medicine for over thirty years. Rossman’s CD teaches you the proper way to relax so you can get a good night’s rest.
- Sleep Posture. If you suffer from back pain, sometimes sleeping in the fetal position can help. The RophiTM Back Care Cushion, Each allows sleepers to sleep on their side and supposedly still keeps the spine and pelvis properly aligned. That’s important because it may relieve back stress and help you feel better when you wake up. Another suggestion I found is the Comfort Plus Round Positioning Roll, sometimes also called a log roll, which also allows you to sleep on your side by putting it between your legs. It supposedly also allows you to sleep on your back because you can put it under legs, thereby taking the strain off your lower back.
- Stay Cool. Many MS sufferers have heat sensitivity problems. If you do, one thing to try is sleeping in light pajamas or using a single blanket on the bed. There are also these great pajamas by Stay Dry, Stay Cool or Cool-Jams that absorb and wick away sweat. They are based on the same technology as athletic workout wear worn by golfers, bicyclists, and exercisers.
- Wear Socks. If you have tingling in your feet, or if you tend to feel as if your feet are cold even when they are not, wear socks to bed. One of the best places I’ve found for all types of different socks is Foot Smart.
There can often be more than one reason why an MS sufferer can’t sleep. Furthermore, some MS sufferers have sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or spasticity problems, and, often, if these issues are not taken care of, they lead to worse problems. Because sleep problems differ so much from person to person, most sleep experts suggest they be treated on an individual basis. If you try the above sleep remedies, and, if they don’t seem to help, see your health care practitioner for more specialized and specific help.