Editor’s note: “Need to Know” is a series inspired by common forum questions and comments from readers. Have a comment or question about MS? Visit our forum. This week’s question is inspired by the post “Researcher Receives $130K Grant to Study Sleep and MS” from Aug. 27, 2019. Have an experience you want to share? Leave a comment here or at the original forum topic.
Today I’m putting on my medical cap as a boarded sleep technologist and certified clinical sleep health educator to share research that links sleep quality to myelin health in people with MS.
Most people occasionally experience sleep problems, but people with MS frequently struggle to get enough quality sleep. Why? Medication side effects and MS symptoms can lead to insomnia, fragmented nighttime rest, or daytime sleepiness. Additionally, an active course of MS can trigger circadian disruption.
Uninterrupted sleep provides our brains with ample time to heal. If we aren’t sleeping deeply or long enough, we minimize our chances of overcoming functional, MS-related problems that occur during a relapse or that are part of disease progression.
Sleep plays an important role in promoting plasticity.
Plasticity, or neuroplasticity, is the brain’s ability to change and adapt to new conditions.
The central nervous system (CNS) is composed of white matter (nerves coated in myelin that deliver signals to and from the body) and gray matter (the cells that process neuronal signals). Think of gray matter as a computer and white matter as its communications network.
The brain can be “plastic” in two main ways:
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