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Why Does MS Cause Sleep Problems?

When you have multiple sclerosis (MS), any number of factors can interfere with a good night's rest. Disrupted sleep isn't restful or refreshing — so you probably want to do something about it as soon as possible. The first step in dealing with sleep problems is to talk about them with your doctor. The next step is to work with your doctor to address all the factors that disrupt your sleep.

Following are some examples of how MS can keep you up at night:

  • Corticosteroids: The corticosteroids used to treat some MS relapses are notorious for interfering with sleep. The energy boost they provide may help you get your closets cleaned, but they may also keep you awake. If corticosteroids prevent you from sleeping, your doctor can prescribe a sleep medication for the time period that you're taking them.

  • Frequent nighttime urination: This condition, which is called nocturia, can really interfere with a good night's sleep. So, if your bladder is giving you too many wake-up calls, a referral to a urologist is definitely a good idea.

    Spasms: Painful nighttime spasms caused by spasticity in your legs can jolt you right out of a deep sleep. For painful spasms in your legs, your doctor can prescribe an anti-spasticity or muscle relaxant medication.

  • Periodic limb movements (PLMs): PLMs, which include jerkiness or spasms that occur only during sleep, are more common in people with MS than in the general population. These movements can disrupt your sleep even if you aren't aware of them (your sleep partner will be sure to tell you about them though!).

    Your doctor can prescribe a medication such as Lioresal (baclofen), Klonopin (clonazepam), or Neurontin (gabapentin) to reduce the number of PLMs and help you sleep soundly through the ones that do occur.

  • Depression and anxiety: Although some depressed people feel like sleeping all the time, many find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. If you or your physician thinks that depression or anxiety may be responsible for your sleep problems, a referral to a mental health professional for an evaluation is the best next step.

  • Alcohol use: Using alcohol to help you fall asleep may be tempting, but drinking alcohol in the evening often results in fitful, poor quality sleep.

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