Sleep Smart

Studies indicate that more than 50% of people living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) report problems with sleep. Some people have trouble falling asleep, some wake in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep. Many don’t get a restorative night’s rest and are exhausted all day; only to suffer from insomnia at night. It’s a vicious cycle and one that affects the quality of life. In, Sleep is the Best Medicine, we explored how sleep impacts our brain and body.  By making better decisions about our sleep habits we can potentially influence MS symptoms such as pain and fatigue and improve cognitive function, immune function and long-term health.

Sleep patterns can be affected by dietary choices. Research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that diets low in fiber and high in saturated fat and sugar were associated with lighter, less restorative sleep and more waking up at night.1,2 According to a study from Columbia University, refined carbs like bread and pasta can delay melatonin getting released into the body, disturbing the sleep cycle.3

If you have trouble sleeping, consider skipping caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants. The National Sleep Foundation reports that caffeine can impact falling asleep even up to 12 hours after consumption and nicotine has been linked to insomnia.4 Alcohol is a sedative that can cause a rebound effect and wake you several hours after falling asleep.5

 What foods can help to promote sleep?

Look for choices that contain the essential amino acid tryptophan which helps relax muscles. Your body changes tryptophan into serotonin. Serotonin helps control sleep. When serotonin levels are low, people can experience insomnia and anxiety.6

Options: shrimp, bananas, nuts, pumpkin seeds, chicken, eggs, oats, beans, grass-fed beef, turkey.

Melatonin is a hormone responsible for the synchronization of the body’s circadian rhythm. That’s your 24- hour internal clock that regulates the sleep and wake cycles. Melatonin is secreted when it gets dark, signaling the brain to go into sleep mode. Melatonin also helps regulate hormones.

Foods rich in melatonin are pineapples, bananas, oranges, tomatoes, flaxseed, orange bell peppers, and cherries. As a bonus, tart cherries help reduce inflammation in the body due to their phytonutrient content. The effects have been compared to being as good as aspirin.  Plus, they contain antioxidants that help to eliminate byproducts of oxidative stress and slow down aging.7


  • Write a list of things to be done the next day so you can forget about them and relax.
  • Take 30-60 minutes at the end of the day to unwind and turn down the noise in your brain. Read, write in a journal, take a bath, meditate.
  • Turn off electronics within one hour of bedtime that emits blue light.
  • Don’t work until bedtime. It can produce anxiety and tight muscles can prevent you from falling asleep.
  • Limit sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and spicy food. All can affect the quality of your sleep.
  • Research shows the best average sleep temperature is 65-72.
  • Set up your bedroom to induce sleep. Hang blackout curtains. Pillows should be replaced between 6 months and 2 years. Mattresses should be replaced every 5-10 years.8
  • Infuse lavender oil.  Lavender can increase your sleep quality by 20%. Other research shows that lavender may slow the activity of the nervous system, inducing a feeling of calm.9
  • Stick to a sleep routine. Scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital did one of the first studies to consider the effects of regular sleep patterns. Their research suggests that an inconsistent sleep routine prevents the body from releasing hormones at the right time to make you feel tired or awake, throwing off your circadian rhythm.10
  • Get a white-noise machine.
  • Exercise daily or just move. Research links inactivity with poor sleep.
  • Get outdoors and get natural sunlight every day to reset your circadian rhythm

Keep a sleep diary! It’s a great way to pinpoint what habits are keeping you from getting the sleep you need. Consider the following questions:

  • How many hours of sleep do you average per night?
  • Do you wake up refreshed or still tired?
  • Can you identify habits that are interfering with sleep?
  • What steps can you take to modify or change those habits?
  • How many hours of sleep would you like to get per night?
  • How would your life change if you regularly met your sleep goal? Visualize it!

Sometimes sleep problems may be caused by chemical and physical changes associated with Multiple Sclerosis. Nervous system lesions can impact the brain’s ability to communicate to the body that it’s time to sleep. Pain, anxiety, and certain medications can also play a part.11 Some of these things we can’t control but we can alter our behavior and our environment to help get a good night’s rest.

 What habits will you change to improve your sleep?

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