MS, Insomnia & My Sleep Study Experience
My night at the sleep clinic and coping with sleep problems.
There’s a saying that gets used in medicine, if you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not a zebra. It means don’t go looking at uncommon causes (zebra) without checking for more common causes first (horses). Well, when it comes to my health I always assume it’s the zebra. I jump to the conclusion that every little thing is Multiple Sclerosis (MS) related while ignoring that it could be something much more commonplace. Fortunately, my GP has reigned in my tendency to overreact, and now I wait for her to eliminate more common causes first.
The symptoms under investigation today are fatigue, poor memory and concentration. These are known symptoms of MS, however, as there is no test to prove MS is the direct cause of my problems, my doctor needs to begin a process of elimination. Blood tests came back negative for low iron, and vitamin D levels were normal, low vitamin D is common in MS and causes fatigue. The next area that needs to be queried is my sleep. So off I hop to the sleep doctor.
As I’ve had sleep problems my whole life, this made complete sense, and I was happy to have a sleep study done.
The consultation with the doctor at the sleep clinic identified that I may have sleep apnoea due to the structure of my jaw and bite. Another lifelong problem which causes jaw pain and headaches. All obvious things that you don’t think of as you’ve had these issues for life and it just blends into the background. Restless legs was another possibility, so I was booked in for an overnight sleep study at the clinic rather than a take-home kit. Great. I probably won’t sleep all night but if it means I can get a solution to my sleep and cognitive problems I’m happy to do it.
A lot of measurements need to be recorded in a sleep study which requires a lot of sensors all over your body. An assistant applies the sensors on your legs, chest and hands. Most of the sensors are applied to your head and face. All up this process took 30 minutes. I tried to take a covert selfie of the end result for you guys, I had to be stealthy because there’s a camera in the room so they can monitor you during the night. I didn’t want them catching me doing this and think I was weird or completely self-absorbed. The photo was terrible, so I’m sorry to say I trashed that image.
I had my own room for the night which was temperature controlled. I could hear the person in the next room snore for a little while, but that did not cause me any problems.
Something that I was happy to learn is that whether you get a sleep study done privately or in the public system, you get your own room either way. There’s no point putting you in a room with three other snoring people.
I thought I wouldn’t sleep all night, but I did. When they woke me up at 6 am I hadn’t realised I had fallen asleep. In the end, I only woke up once (that I was aware of) to use the bathroom which is very easy as they just pick up the docking station the sensors are connected to.
They only wake you up once you have completed a full sleep cycle, meaning they won’t wake you when you’re in a deep sleep. On the advice of the sleep clinic, I had arranged a lift home as people feel fatigued after the sleep study, and I was.
Before we get to the results, let’s talk about strategies that can help sleep problems.
Sometimes medication is prescribed as a short-term solution. Melatonin can be prescribed to adjust poor sleeping patterns. Many doctors have told me that taking medication for sleep long term is a slippery slope. I was once prescribed medication for an unrelated matter that I took over several years. As a side effect it completely knocked me out at night, I was told it wasn’t addictive (and it wasn’t), but I did become dependent on it for getting to sleep. Once I was taken off that medication trying to fall asleep naturally became impossible for a period of time. It drove me to despair, and I had anxiety attacks from the stress of not being able to fall asleep. I was so tired but couldn’t rest, I would end up in tears. It’s horrible. Eventually, I did fall asleep, and I don’t have that dependency anymore, but it was hell getting there.
The most natural and advisable way to manage sleep problems for most people is through good sleep hygiene. I’m not going to go into all the details of what sleep hygiene is because, if you suffer from poor sleep or insomnia, I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about it. For those who haven’t heard about sleep hygiene, you can find info about it here, in case you’re wondering it has nothing to do with cleanliness.
Good sleep hygiene does improve sleep, but if your sleep problems are caused by something a bit more serious such as intrusive thoughts or chronic pain, you will need to add a few sleep hacks of your own.
There are some things that I do to help my sleep problems that are not advised by sleep experts, but I find that they work for me because (let’s say it together boys and girls)… everyone is different.
For example, sleep hygiene experts say don’t watch TV in bed, but this is actually very helpful for me. It’s just what I watch on TV that is important. David Attenborough documentaries are the best. They are relaxing, don’t require much thought. You’re watching beautiful images of nature that you can get lost in and forget about all your problems. Marine documentaries are by far the best zone out material. Netflix has moving art videos that are perfect for those who like a bit of relaxing TV before bed. If you fall asleep in front of the TV, just be sure to pop on the sleep timer.
Podcasts are an essential part of my bedtime routine. I have a busy brain, so I listen to a podcast called . This podcast has been my miracle cure for insomnia. I can’t sleep without it. Sleep With Me is presented by Scooter (@dearestscooter) who has his own experience with sleepless nights and has a genuine desire to help those with similar issues. Scooter’s unique skill is being really really boring. He tells meandering bedtime stories aimed at distracting busy brains and thoughts (brain bots). The stories are engaging enough to stop your mind wandering but not stimulating enough to stop you falling asleep. Sleep With Me also has a fantastic online community, so there is always someone online to hang out with during a sleepless night.
You can also try mindfulness and progressive relaxation techniques which I wrote about in my previous post, ‘The Magnetic Fortress of Solitude’. Personally, I don’t use this method at bedtime as it usually activates a burst of ideas and creativity.
*** Fast forward a week***
The results of my sleep study came in today, and my sleep pattern is ’normal’, my sleep problems are not caused by sleep apnoea. I didn’t have the jimmy legs either. Which means my fatigue and cognitive problems are likely to be MS related…I was right it was the zebra all along (victory dance 💃).
Well, at least we eliminated the sleep problems from the list of causes. Now it’s time for me to focus on my diet and fitness plan to help boost my energy levels, something I’ll get into in future posts.
So goodnight and sweet dreams people of the page. Talk to you in the morning 😀
As always I invite you to share your strategies for dealing with sleep problems in the comments section below.
Authors Note: No remuneration was received for mentions and endorsements in this post, opinions are my own. (just sharing the love 😊).