Sleep Apnea More Common in People with Multiple Sclerosis

This sleep disorder may be contributing to your MS fatigue.

 Do you wake up without feeling refreshed? Do you get morning headaches? Do you often feel sleepy and struggle to remain alert during the day?

As a person with multiple sclerosis (MS), I would answer “yes” to all of the above questions, and assume that most of us would, as these seem like common complaints of people struggling with MS-related fatigue and other symptoms. However, I took the above questions from a self assessment quiz to determine if you may have sleep apnea, after reading that a study at the University of Michigan revealed that a large percentage of people with MS may also have sleep apnea.

A screening questionnaire for sleep apnea was given to 195 people with MS. An astounding 56% of respondents gave responses that indicated that they were at high risk of sleep apnea. Only 21% of the people questioned had received a diagnosis of sleep apnea, meaning that it seems that there is a large number of people with MS with possible sleep apnea who have not been diagnosed.

Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person stops breathing for short periods during the night. This can happen many (even hundreds) of times during the same night. Undiagnosed sleep apnea can greatly contribute to MS fatigue, as well as other chronic problems.

Sleep apnea is fairly easily diagnosed and treated. If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, including snoring or choking/gasping during sleep, visit your doctor to determine if you have may have sleep apnea. After all, the last thing any of us need is more fatigue, especially if it can be treated.

I asked some the readers of if they had experience with sleep apnea and got some interesting responses:

  • In 2005 when I was diagnosed with MS, my neurologist scheduled me for a sleep study and I was also diagnosed with apnea. It didn’t take long to notice the difference using a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine made for better sleep and less fatigue during the day.
  • I was diagnosed with sleep apnea several years after my MS diagnosis. I have both types of sleep apnea — central nervous system apnea and obstructive sleep apnea. With CPAP they can set it so one is controlled, but the other one has more episodes.
  • I was diagnosed with sleep apnea several years before being diagnosed with MS. They looked at me strangely and said it was because most people with sleep apnea are older and overweight. Well, I found out that wasn’t true. The MS diagnosis should have come several years before the SA diagnosis in my opinion. The neuro was hoping all of my other symptoms would go away while using CPAP. They didn’t. Even with CPAP I am fatigued throughout the day. I take medication for fatigue and it helps a little more than not using it, but with all of the other meds they give me that cause drowsiness it is futile. I am weary and straining to get through the day most of the time. I get home from work on Friday by 11 am and don’t leave the house again until Sunday morning for church.
  • I have had sleep issues for many years. It took me years to get the doctor to agree to a sleep study. I was diagnosed with hypopnea (low oxygen level). After getting the MS diagnosis, I noticed that my sleeping was worse, and the MS hug was a problem. I asked my doctor about getting retested for apnea. Test results this time were for full-blown sleep apnea. I must admit I hate most of the masks. I do not mind the Nasal Air II mask, which is made similar to the oxygen tubes you would get at a hospital. They are soft, however, and large enough to fit your nostrils. Although I still have fatigue, it is much less than it used to be. I don’t wake up in a bad mood every day either!

Bottom Line: If there is even a possibility that you may have sleep apnea, get checked out. Sleep apnea is diagnosed with a sleep study, meaning that you stay overnight in a facility to be observed and monitored for signs that your breathing may stop during the night. While this sounds like not very much fun, think how great it would be to find out there is something that you can do that may help you sleep better and, in turn, have more energy during the day. 


Braley TJ; Segal BM; Chervin RD. Obstructive sleep apnea and fatigue in patients with multiple sclerosis. J Clin Sleep Med 2014;10(2):155

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