Parkinson’s Disease is a disorder of the central nervous system that causes a loss of cells in the part of the brain that controls your movement. While Parkinson’s itself is not a mental health problem, it’s been linked with memory problems, depression, and sleep complaints.1 These are mental health problems – especially as lack of sleep can lead to depression, anxiety, and sleeping disorders, like insomnia. A good night’s sleep is important for our health and wellbeing. However, for people with Parkinson’s Disease, sleep becomes even more critical as the body needs more time to restore and repair itself.2 Yet, sleep problems can arise even before motor symptoms (tremors, stiffness, and problems with co-ordination) have started.3 The good news is that you, or a carer, can try to make sure that you get a better sleep.

What Are the Most Common Issues?

Some of the common sleep problems for people with Parkinson’s Disease can include:

  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep (insomnia)
  • Talking or yelling out while asleep
  • Nightmares or vivid dreaming
  • Sleep attacks (a sudden involuntary episode of sleep)
  • REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder (acting out dreams while asleep)
  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
  • Sleep Apnoea
  • Difficulty turning over in bed
  • Waking up frequently to go to the bathroom

A recent study by UCLA researchers also found a link between Parkinson’s Disease and narcolepsy4, a disorder that affects how the brain regulates sleep/wake cycles. Read more about narcolepsy in our article here.

People with Parkinson’s Disease can also experience sleepiness during the day, with one study finding daytime sleepiness in 76% of people with Parkinson’s.5

The brain changes that are a part of Parkinson’s cause these sleeping problems, but they could also be linked to medication that’s prescribed to people with the disease.6 Disrupted sleep can affect your health, mood, and overall quality of life – which is especially difficult for people with Parkinson’s, as they need sleep to let the body repair itself. Plus, when people with Parkinson’s Disease don’t sleep well, their carer’s sleep is disrupted, too. Carers need a good sleep to be able to provide the best care during the day.

Problems with Sleeping at Night

Sleep Apnoea

Sleep Apnoea can be found in up to 40% of people with Parkinson’s Disease.7 Common symptoms can include loud snoring, restless sleep, sleepiness during the day, and a pause of breathing while you’re asleep. The pause in breathing is normally noticed by someone else who is sleeping in the same room, and the person who’s stopped breathing momentarily is not always aware that their breathing has paused. However, they’ll wake up briefly when their breathing stops, and this could happen many times throughout the night. As this disrupts their sleep, people with Sleep Apnoea struggle with tiredness through the day. Read more about Sleep Apnoea here.

REM Sleep Behavioural Disorder (SBD)

People with this disorder don’t have the normal relaxation of the muscles while they dream, so they’ll act out their dreams while sleeping. About half of people with Parkinson’s suffer from this8, and it can lead to poor quality of sleep.

Insomnia

Insomnia is a sleeping disorder that makes it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, and even get up in the morning. If you have insomnia, you’re much more likely to feel sleepy and groggy during the day. People with Parkinson’s Disease can be more prone to insomnia because of motor-related symptoms, like tremors, stiffness, pain, and Restless Leg Syndrome.9 Insomnia can also affect your mood, leading to depression and anxiety, which can make sleeping even harder. Read more about insomnia here.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder that causes you to have an irresistible urge to move to ease uncomfortable sensations. It usually interferes with sleep and leads to tiredness during the day. Read more about RLS in our topic, ‘Restless Leg Syndrome and Sleep’. You can ease RLS with heat pads or electric blankets – browse our selection here. Heat pads and electric blankets are also great for easing pain in joints or muscles.

Parkinson’s Disease can lead to anxiety and depression, which have sleep problems of their own. Read more about them, and how to get a better sleep, in our articles, ‘Sleeping with Depression’ and ‘Sleeping with Anxiety’.

Tips for A Better Sleep

Keep a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed at the same time every night, and waking up at the same time every morning, will help to improve the quality of your sleep. Choose your bedtime depending on when you want to get up – you should get the recommended 7 – 9 hours of sleep.

Have a relaxing bedtime routine. Following a relaxing routine before bedtime will signal to your brain and body that it’s time to get ready for a sleep, so falling asleep should be easier when you do get into bed. It’s important that it’s relaxing, so you could have a light snack, a soothing bath, and then read a book for a short time before going to sleep.

Spend time outdoors. If possible, spending some time outside is a great way to help your sleep, especially while the sun is out. Getting some fresh air and sunlight is good for helping to regulate your circadian rhythm, which decides when it’s time to be awake or asleep depending on light exposure. If you can’t go outside, sitting next to a window can be just as beneficial. Read more about circadian rhythm here. You could also consider light therapy if you can’t go outdoors. Our S.A.D Therapy Light from Life Max mimics daylight, and you can read more about its benefits here.

Exercise. Gentle exercise, especially in the morning, helps to keep you awake during the day so that you’ll be sleepy at night. Avoid exercising in the evening, and do not do anything stimulating before you go to bed. You can read more about how exercise helps improve your sleep in our article, ‘Five Ways Exercise Helps You Sleep’.

Avoid naps. Do not nap after 3 p.m. as this will stop you from feeling sleepy when you go to bed. If you are tired and need a nap, don’t nap for longer than one hour – and try to nap at the same time every day.

Have a healthy sleeping environment. Make sure that your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. If your room is still too bright during the night, consider blackout curtains to keep the light out.

Limit screen time. Do not watch TV in bed, as the blue light emitted from the screen disrupts the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. This’ll affect the quality of your sleep, your sleep pattern, and it’ll take longer for you to drift off. If you watch TV in bed, your brain will come to associate your bed with being awake and restless. You should also avoid looking at computers, phones, or laptops for an hour before you go to sleep. Read a book instead or listen to soothing music.

Don’t drink anything before going to bed. Drinking within three hours of going to bed will make you at risk of waking up during the night to go to the toilet. Go to the bathroom before you get into bed to minimise the chances of sleep disturbance.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine. While alcohol can help you feel drowsy, drinking it in the evening will actually disrupt your sleep. You’re more likely to wake up to go to the bathroom, and you could struggle with falling back asleep. Also, caffeine should be avoided during the day. While the first cup of coffee in the morning can help raise alertness and keep you awake, drinking caffeine in the afternoon and evening can make it harder to fall asleep at night.

Think about your diet. Don’t eat heavy meals late in the evening, and don’t eat within two hours of your bedtime.

While these are ideas for helping yourself, or someone you know who has Parkinson’s, get a better sleep, the best way to improve sleep quality is to visit your doctor or the carer. They can advise you on any side effects of medication that could be causing sleepiness or sleep problems, and will help to determine how to treat any sleeping problems that have arisen.

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Footnotes

  1. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/parkinsons-disease-and-sleep
  2. https://www.parkinson.org/Understanding-Parkinsons/Symptoms/Non-Movement-Symptoms/Sleep-Disorders
  3. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/parkinsons-disease-and-sleep
  4. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/parkinsons-disease-and-sleep
  5. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/parkinsons-disease-and-sleep
  6. https://www.parkinson.org/Understanding-Parkinsons/Symptoms/Non-Movement-Symptoms/Sleep-Disorders
  7. https://www.parkinson.org/Understanding-Parkinsons/Symptoms/Non-Movement-Symptoms/Sleep-Disorders
  8. https://www.parkinson.org/Understanding-Parkinsons/Symptoms/Non-Movement-Symptoms/Sleep-Disorders
  9. https://www.parkinsons.org.uk/information-and-support/sleep-problems-and-conditions-parkinsons
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