Studies suggest that cognitive problems in multiple sclerosis patients are worsened by sleep apnea or from a lack of quality sleep. Sleep apnea being treatable, some of these memory and thinking failures can be addressed symptomatically and cured to a large extent. Patients need to clearly communicate their sleep profiles and concerns for the neurologists to be able to help.
Poor sleep has been found to worsen multiple sclerosis-related thinking problems. Co-first author of the study Dr. Tiffany Braley said,
Since obstructive sleep apnea is a treatable condition that is also commonly seen in MS, we wondered, ‘What if some of the thinking and processing difficulties that MS patients experience do not stem directly from the MS itself, but from the effects of sleep apnea or other sleep problems?
The study included 38 multiple sclerosis patients who underwent thinking and memory tests along with being assessed for sleep apnea. Results of the study revealed that 33 percent of patients also had sleep apnea.
Co-first author Anna Kratz also explained,
Multiple measures of sleep apnea severity directly correlated with poorer performance on several [thinking] tests. In particular, problems with attention and multiple aspects of memory, including memory for words and images and working memory, which plays a role in problem-solving and decision-making, were all associated with poorer sleep.
Sleep apnea was associated with 11 to 23 percent variation of cognitive function among patients. The study, though, did not prove that sleep apnea causes thinking and cognitive problems in multiple sclerosis but did reveal an association between the two.
The good news is sleep apnea is an easily treatable condition and researchers speculate by managing sleep apnea thinking and cognition can improve in multiple sclerosis patients.
Dr. Neeraj Kaplish, medical director of the University of Michigan Sleep Laboratories, said,
We hope neurologists will ask their patients with MS about sleep, and the patient should be encouraged to openly discuss sleep concerns with their neurologist.