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Getting Enough Rest When You Have Myasthenia Gravis

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2021

When you have myasthenia gravis (MG), rest is important. Rest allows your muscles to recharge so you can go again. It also helps fight the fatigue that many people with MG face. All this makes daily rest and getting a good night’s sleep an important part of learning to live with MG.

Finding time to rest

There is no one recommendation for how much time a person with MG needs to rest during the day. One person may need a 1-hour nap in the early afternoon. Someone else may need 4 15-minute stillness breaks spread throughout the day.1

Rest also means different things to different people. For some it means sleep. For others, it means sitting quietly and listening to podcasts or music.

If you forget to take breaks, set a reminder on your phone or computer to chime when it is time to sit or lay down. Remember, regular breaks may be as important to a person with MG as their medicines.

Tips to conserve energy

On low-energy days, you will need to find what to use your energy for the most important activities of the day. Some tips to conserve your energy include:1-3

  • Do not stand when you can sit or sit when you can lie down
  • Plan tasks and meals for when your energy is usually highest
  • Avoid scheduling activities back-to-back. Build in rest time in between.
  • Use assistive devices when you need them, such as a scooter cart when shopping
  • Break large tasks into smaller chunks so you can get things finished at a pace that works for you

You probably will not need to use all of these rest strategies all of the time. However, it is good to know which methods are most helpful if fatigue or muscle weakness catches you by surprise.

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Sleep problems and MG

Sleep problems like sleep apnea, insomnia, and restless legs syndrome seem to be more common in people with myasthenia gravis than in the general public. Doctors do not understand why.4,5

If someone you live with says you snore, snort, or choke when sleeping, it is time to talk with your doctor. Sleep apnea is very treatable, usually with a device called a CPAP machine. Some people with MG may require a different breathing device called a BiPAP machine. Both of these devices can help you breathe while sleeping.

People who treat their sleep apnea report having higher energy levels during the day.

If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, your doctor is likely to talk to you about changing your sleep habits or taking a supplement like melatonin.

Practice good sleep habits

Everyone’s health is better when they regularly get good quality sleep. The same is true for people with myasthenia gravis.

However, many of us fall into habits that get in the way of getting a good night’s rest. Sleep hygiene is simply a combination of daily habits that can improve your chances of falling asleep, staying asleep, and sleeping well.

Here are some lifestyle choices, eating and drinking habits, environmental options, and evening routines that can improve your sleep:6,7

  • Avoid eating heavy, rich food late at night that may trigger indigestion or heartburn and keep you up
  • Track how much caffeine you consume and when. If you have trouble falling asleep, you may need to cut back or stop drinking caffeine earlier in the day.
  • Do not drink alcohol before bedtime. It may help you fall asleep, but you will probably wake up midway through the night as your body processes the alcohol.
  • Smoking is another stimulant that can keep you up at night. If you are having trouble breathing due to MG, smoking can make it worse.
  • Try to get some exercise every day, if possible. Physical activity can help you sleep better at night. (Exercise also helps fight fatigue!)
  • Go outside and get some sunlight. Time outside helps maintain your internal body clock so you are naturally sleepy when it is dark outside.
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and comfortable for sleep
  • Create a soothing evening routine so your body winds down at the end of the day
  • Follow a sleep schedule. This trains your body to wake up at the same time in the morning and feel sleepy at the same time every night.