Griffin needs volunteers for study on MS and insomnia

January 6, 2018

DERBY — In his years of working with multiple sclerosis patients, Dr. Joseph B. Guarnaccia has found many of them also suffer from another condition — insomnia.

“It does have an impact on their quality of life and their ability to handle their disease,” said Guarnaccia, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Center at Derby’s Griffin Hospital.

To help those grappling with both MS and sleeplessness, Guarnaccia is leading a study to examine whether a form of meditation can ease insomnia in MS patients. The study, a collaboration between the Multiple Sclerosis Center and the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center (which is also at Griffin Hospital), is enrolling patients with multiple sclerosis and chronic insomnia through the winter and spring.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Symptoms of MS can include anything from blurred vision and loss of balance to paralysis and blindness. Problems can come and go or get worse over time.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates that more than 2.3 million people worldwide are affected by MS.

Guarnaccia said there are many possible reasons why people with MS might not be able to sleep, including pain, conditions that occur with MS — such as restless leg syndrome — and other problems resulting from the illness.

“Some people complain that they can’t really turn their minds off at night,” he said.

Volunteers in the study will be randomly assigned to training on either mindfulness meditation or sleep hygiene, which will be offered at either Griffin Hospital or the Yale Stress Center.

Mindfulness meditation involves focusing one’s full attention on the present moment without judgment. The theory is that this kind of meditation can increase the mind’s ability to tolerate thoughts and emotions, and can reduce the perception of stress, anxiety and pain.

Study enrollees not receiving mindfulness training will be trained at Griffin Hospital on sleep hygiene, which will provide tips to establish good sleeping habits and make their sleep more efficient.

Participants in the study must be willing to come to Griffin Hospital for three assessments throughout the study, and to attend a weekly, two-hour training session for eight weeks and one eight-hour weekend session, and wear a Fitbit activity monitor (provided to volunteers) for several weeks to record their sleep data.

The volunteers will receive $200 for their role in the training and assessment, which will be provided free of charge.

This study is funded by a grant from the State of Connecticut’s Biomedical Research Trust Fund. For information, call 203-732-1265, extension 220, or extension 300.