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Stay Alert to Sleep Problems in Multiple Sclerosis

Stay Alert to Sleep Problems in Multiple Sclerosis

Patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) frequently report sleep disorders, but accurate prevalence figures are limited. This study sought to report at a population level the prevalences of restless legs syndrome and insomnia in patients with MS and the risk of obstructive sleep apnea.

A cross-sectional study was performed using a written survey that was mailed to 11,400 patients from the Northern California Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society database who self-identified as having MS. The survey included individual questions relating to demographics as well as several standard validated questionnaires related to primary sleep disorders.

Patients returned 24.6% of the surveys. Among the completed surveys, 898 (37.8%) screened positive for obstructive sleep apnea, 746 (31.6%) for moderate to severe insomnia, and 866 (36.8%) for restless legs syndrome. In contrast, only 4%, 11%, and 12% of the cohort reported receiving diagnoses of obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, and restless legs syndrome, respectively, from a health care provider.

Despite the limitations of this study, including a low response rate to surveys and potential selection bias, a significant percentage of patients with MS in the sample screened positive for 1 or more sleep disorders. The vast majority of these sleep disorders were undiagnosed.

This study indicates a high prevalence of sleep disorders in patients with MS. Greater attention from caregivers to sleep problems in this population is warranted.


1. Brass SD, Li CS, Auerbach S. The underdiagnosis of sleep disorders in patients with multiple sclerosis. J Clin Sleep Med. 2014;10. pii: jc-00207-12.

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