Parkinson’s Disease and Sleep

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive disorder which affects the nervous system and causes a loss of cells in the part of the brain controlling voluntary movements. Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include tremors, shaking, stiffness, slow movements and difficulty with coordination and balance. A person with Parkinson’s may also suffer from loss of memory, depression and sleep problems. The symptoms of the disease are permanent and usually worsen over time, but the rate of the progression varies depending on the individual.

Although the cause of Parkinson’s is unknown, researchers believe that it develops from an interaction between genetics and environment. It may also be hereditary, as the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation estimates that between 15 and 25 percent of people with the disease have a relative who also has it. Age is also a risk factor, with older people being more likely to develop Parkinson’s than younger people, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health.

Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms

The most noticeable symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include tremors, stiffness, slowed movements and balance problems. Carrying out simple tasks such as walking, talking or eating may become more difficult over time. Furthermore, Parkinson’s patients are at a higher risk to develop problems with incontinence, constipation, sexual dysfunction and may develop depression, anxiety, memory or emotional troubles.

The rate at which symptoms develop varies for every individual, as well as which symptoms a patient experiences.

Parkinson’s Disease and Sleep Disorders

Before the movement problems have become noticeable, a person with Parkinson’s may experience sleep problems. Some of the common symptoms of sleep problems in a Parkinson’s patient include:

  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Nightmares
  • Sleep attacks (involuntary, sudden sleep episodes)
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
  • Periodic leg movement disorder (PLMD)
  • Sleep apnea
  • REM sleep behavior disorder
  • Frequent nighttime urination

There may also be a link between the REM sleep behavior disorder, in which one enacts dream behaviors while asleep, and later development of Parkinson’s. One study found that up to three-quarters of patients with REM behavior disorder later developed a Parkinsonian disorder. Parkinson’s patients are also at a higher risk of developing restless leg syndrome and periodic leg movement disorder, both which can disturb sleep. Apart from sleep disturbances at night, up to 76 percent of Parkinson’s patients experience excessive daytime sleepiness.

Parkinson’s Disease and Narcolepsy

A recent UCLA study found a relationship between Parkinson’s disease and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder marked by sleep attacks when the brain cannot regulate the sleep/wake cycle. The research showed that similar to patients with narcolepsy, patients with Parkinson’s display a loss of certain cells in the brain which correlate with the severity of the disease. However, patients with narcolepsy do not have an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s Disease and Sleep Habits

Patients with Parkinson’s have a shortened life expectancy and have difficulty maintaining their quality of life. By practicing good sleep habits, Parkinson’s patients can improve the physical and psychological symptoms of their illness. A recent study found that people with Parkinson’s perform better on a memory test after a night’s sleep, suggesting that sleep improves memory in people with Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s Disease Treatment

Although there is no treatment to slow or reverse the gradual loss of dopaminergic brain cells, there are drugs to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

For sleep troubles, including excessive daytime sleepiness, patients with Parkinson’s may be successfully treated with narcolepsy drugs, such as stimulants and sleeping medication for sleep. For those who have REM behavior sleep disorder, sedative medications may help. Severe insomnia may result for patients who are at an advanced stage of Parkinson’s due to pain or uncontrollable movements. These symptoms may be alleviated by taking Parkinson’s medication later in the day or by taking hypnotic sleep aids.

Insomnia may also result from certain medications used to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s. It may help to take those medications earlier in the day to improve sleep. However, any change to the medication regimen should be overseen by a doctor.

For more information about Parkinson's disease and how it can affect your sleep, call The Los Angeles Sleep Study Institute at 1-855-690-0563.