Undiagnosed sleep disorders may be at the root of the most common and disabling symptom of multiple sclerosis—fatigue, according a new study published online in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
Conducted by researchers at University of California, Davis in Sacramento, California, the study involved more than 2,300 people suffering from the disease. More than 70% of participants screened positive for one or more sleep disorders.
Results of the study, which may be the largest of its kind involving victims of MS, suggest that sleep disorders may be a “hidden epidemic” among the MS population.
“A large percentage of MS subjects in our study are sleep-deprived and screened positive for one or more sleep disorders,” says Steven Brass, director of the Neurology Sleep Clinical Program and co-medical director of the UC Davis Sleep Medicine Laboratory.
“The vast majority of these sleep disorders are potentially undiagnosed and untreated,” he says. “This work suggests that patients with MS may have sleep disorders requiring independent diagnosis and management.”
Sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia may affect the course of the disease, the authors say, as well as the overall health and well-being of sufferers.
MS is a chronic, inflammatory disease of the central nervous system thought to be an autoimmune condition, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. It can cause loss of vision and balance, slurred speech, tremors, numbness, extreme fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, paralysis and more. Most victims are women diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50.
Nearly 38% of the study participants screened positive for obstructive sleep apnea, yet only about 4% reported being diagnosed with the disorder, researchers said. Nearly 32% suffered from moderate to severe insomnia and nearly 37% from restless legs syndrome. More than half—nearly 52%—said it took them more than a half hour to fall asleep at night, and nearly 11% reported taking a medication to fall asleep.