“A Good Laugh and a Long Sleep are the Best Cures in the Doctor’s Book”
– Irish Proverb
Many of us living with Multiple Sclerosis know that if we don’t get enough sleep, our quality of life is affected. It took me a while to figure out that when I’m tired, I can’t find my words or remember things. I have difficulty staying focused or completing tasks. I lose my balance more and walk into walls. Physically, my legs shake and vibrate more, and I get twitching in my face. If I’m really tired, I’ll get stabbing pain in my eyes and eventually, a migraine. Getting enough sleep is important for everyone but it’s a crucial preventative measure to help control symptoms if you have MS, because getting enough sleep affects myelin. Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks it’s myelin; sleep plays a part in the ability of the brain’s cells to grow and repair themselves.1
According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, sleep increases the reproduction of cells that play a part in the formation of myelin. Lack of sleep is linked with the activation of genes associated with cell stress and death. 2
Your brain and body aren’t taking a break while you sleep, they are performing maintenance. While you sleep, the central nervous system is actively removing toxins and waste from the brain; neural activity that accumulated while you were awake. The brain’s blood vessels are like a plumbing system that drain away the waste. This is important because, “In essentially all neurodegenerative diseases, protein waste accumulates and eventually suffocates and kills the neuronal network of the brain.” This includes amyloid-beta proteins which are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.3
People with MS appear to be at increased risk of heart disease, heart failure and stroke.4 Sleep aids the body to heal and repair heart and blood vessels, making it a key element to help prevent high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. According to the National Sleep Foundation, during restorative sleep, “Blood pressure drops, breathing slows down, blood flow moves to the muscles and tissue is repaired.” 5
Studies show that missing even one night of sleep can affect reasoning, problem solving abilities and decision making. We need enough restorative sleep to be able to process and consolidate new information and commit it to memory.6
Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked with an increased risk of dementia, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It also can speed up the aging process and impair brain networks that control cognitive function. Sleep deprivation promotes inflammation and affects logical reasoning, decision making, alertness, learning and memory. It is also linked with increased anxiety.7
According to The National MS Society, people with MS may be up to three times more likely to experience sleep disturbances than the general population, and about two times as likely to experience a reduced quality of sleep. Part of the problem is that MS can impact sleep in several ways including:
- Disruption of neurotransmitters involved in sleep which can result in narcolepsy, fatigue and poor sleep efficiency.
- Deficiencies in Vitamin D, and other nutrients that may help regulate sleep.
- Reduced physical activity due to fatigue and MS related disability.
- Other MS symptoms including, restless legs, pain, urinary or bowel issues, temperature dysregulation.
- Emotional changes including stress, anxiety or depression.8,9
Not getting enough restorative sleep can affect MS issues such as; mood, fatigue, cognition, balance, spasticity and pain.
Insomnia can be an issue for people with MS. Early morning wakefulness is a form of insomnia associated with anxiety or depression. It’s when you wake up several hours earlier than necessary and can’t fall back to sleep.10 I suffer from this type of insomnia. Sometimes I just can’t turn my brain off and I lay awake worrying about, ‘what if?’ When this happens, I practice progressive muscle relaxation. Here’s how it works:
Slowly tense and release one muscle at a time. Start with your toes and work your way up your body and then back down again. Tense for a few seconds, relax, start again. Focus on each muscle. Personally, I like to start with my head. I visualize a white healing light going through my brain and down my body as I concentrate on tensing and relaxing my muscles. It’s a great stress reliever and before you know it, you’re waking up in the morning.
Another form of insomnia is excessive daytime sleepiness. It occurs when you have trouble falling asleep or you can’t maintain sleep. Both forms of insomnia can affect cognitive function.11
Sleep deprivation suppresses immune function. T-cells go down and inflammatory cytokines go up.12
Research from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has shown that neurons that control sleep interact closely with the immune system. Getting enough sleep may help the body conserve energy and other resources that the immune system needs to mount an attack.13
Getting a good night’s sleep is the first line of defense when managing a chronic illness. It helps to maintain emotional well-being and healthy brain function. Sleep is the foundation for good health!
Understanding how sleep affects your body and your mind can help you make better decisions about your sleep habits. In the next blog, Sleep Smart, we’ll explore how dietary choices affect sleep and create a sleep routine.