Americans are struggling with a sleep problem. More than a third of us aren’t getting the recommended seven hours per night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 35 percent report poor sleep quality, according to the National Sleep Foundation. People with multiple sclerosis may fall into both categories.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the body mistakenly attacks the coating of the nerves and the nerve fibers themselves. That damage then jams or slows communication in the central nervous system, made up of the spinal cord, brain and optic nerves.
Miscommunication in the body leads to a long list of physical problems – such as extreme fatigue, muscle spasms, and bladder and bowel problems – which make it tough to get through each day. Those symptoms can also make it hard for MS patients to get through the night, as can other MS-related issues such as depression, anxiety, tremors, pain and burning sensations in the body, and temperature-control problems.
Lifestyle factors may also lead to sleep problems, such as drinking caffeinated beverages or alcohol, or looking at electronic screens (TVs, smartphones) late at night. “The type of blue light emitted by these devices stimulates wakefulness by suppressing our brain’s natural nighttime melatonin release. This problem may further exacerbate existing sleep difficulty in MS patients,” explains IHPI member Dr. Tiffany Braley, an assistant professor of neurology at the U-M who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders in multiple sclerosis patients.