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Sleep tight

iStock-1182205974_1.jpgThis article is taken from the latest issue of New Pathways magazine. To subscribe click here


Wake up refreshed with this advice for a better sleep

We all struggle to sleep from time to time. But getting a good night’s kip is essential for everyone’s health, and especially so when you live with a chronic condition such as multiple sclerosis (MS). Try this tips for a better night’s rest.

The importance of light

Most people would agree they sleep easier in the dark. Just think how easily morning light in the summer months can cause you to wake up at 5am unable to get back to sleep. This is due to your circadian rhythm, otherwise known as your sleep-wake cycle, and it’s directly controlled by sunlight. “Your sleep-wake cycle influences your brain processes and hormone production, making or breaking your quality of rest,” says sleep expert Christine Lapp ( “At night, your brain senses a lack of sunlight, triggering the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. In the mornings when the sun rises, it tells your brain it’s time to wake up – sunlight hinders melatonin production and keeps your body energised.”

To help re-set your circadian rhythm, try and get as much early-morning sunlight (though easier said than done in the UK sometimes) as soon as you wake up. “This can include going outside for a quick stroll or merely enjoying breakfast in a sunny spot,” says Christine. “At night, keeping lights low and eliminating blue-light from your bedroom can prove powerful in helping you fall asleep faster.”

Blue light, emitted from electronic devices like smart phones, tablets and other screens, tricks your brain into thinking it’s earlier in the day, and so hinders melatonin production. And if all you wake up to is a dank sky and dark clouds, you can try faking it. “Sunlight alarms are becoming more and more popular as they simulate sunrise and sunset on a small scale. These strengthen your sleep-wake cycle and allow you to start your day a more peaceful way,” says Christine. “In more severe cases, a lightbox is required for light therapy. In these instances, it’s suggested individuals sit in front of a bright light for 30 to 40 minutes after waking up in the mornings to keep their internal clock in sync with night and day.”

No napping

When you have MS, fatigue can be very real and the need to nap is overwhelming. If you have to take a nap, try to keep it earlier in the day so that it doesn’t interfere with your nighttime rest. “Sleep specialists agree the most opportune time to squeeze in some mid-day shut-eye is around five or six hours after you wake up. However, that’s not always possible on a day-to-day basis,” says Christine. “To play it safe, always plan your naps at least five hours before bedtime. Taking a nap anytime in the five hours leading up to your bedtime can make it harder to fall, or stay, asleep.”

Ditch the drink

It is commonly believed that alcohol helps you sleep, but it actually disrupts it. “The key drawback of consuming alcohol before bed is the reduction of rapid eye movement (or REM) during sleep,” says pharmacist Carolina Goncalves from Pharmica ( “REM occurs 90 into your sleep and at this stage you usually have dreams. Therefore, REM disruptions caused by alcohol consumption can lead to lower quality of sleep, leading to potential issues with drowsiness and poor concentration during the daytime.” Experts recommend you have alcohol no later than four hours before your bedtime.

Eat right

Certain foods can help send you to the land of nod. These include poultry, which contains an amino acid called tryptophan. It helps your body make the feel-good hormone serotonin, which then converts to melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleep.

Yoghurt, cheese and milk are good for calcium, which helps process the hormones that help you sleep, melatonin and tryptophan. Bananas are high in potassium which helps to keep you asleep throughout the night. They also have tryptophan and magnesium which are natural sedatives. 

Whole grains encourage insulin production that result in tryptophan activity in the brain. They also have magnesium which is said to help you stay asleep. When magnesium levels are too low, you are more likely to wake up during the night.

Avoiding caffeine in the afternoon can make a huge difference to your ability to fall asleep come nighttime, too.

Mattress matters

To fall asleep and stay asleep, your bedroom needs to be serene and comfortable. And comfort starts with the bed itself. “Living with MS can cause stresses and strains to the muscles and joints in your body,” says Carl Walsh, sleep specialist at Bed Guru ( “One of the biggest changes you can make to support your body and ease the stress is to swap out your mattress. 

“Pocket-sprung mattresses adapt to your body shape whilst you sleep, relieving the pressure on your back and joints. Having adequate spinal support is one of the most important aspects of a comfortable night’s sleep. When your back is in a compromising position, your muscles will tighten, causing stress and pain. Pocket sprung mattresses help to reduce this stress, giving you a comfortable night’s sleep. Alternatively, try an orthopaedic or memory foam mattress.

“Similarly, place one or two pillows between your knees to reduce the pressure on your spine. If you sleep on your back, you can place a pillow under your knees to keep your back straight and comfortably supported. Or purchase a mattress topper as they provide great support, without the need to buy a new mattress. They have been specially designed to provide extra comfort and increased support for your spine,” says Carl.

Getting a good night’s sleep makes a world of difference to how you feel, and with a few tweaks, hopefully you’ll get your eight hours.