Parkinson’s disease and sleep are closely connected. Most people with Parkinson’s have sleep problems at times. The disease itself may cause some issues, such as REM sleep disorder. You might also have insomnia or feel overly tired during the day. Your provider can help you find therapies to help you sleep better.
Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder that causes nerve cells in one part of the brain to slowly degrade (get damaged) or die over time. As this nerve damage gets worse, it causes a cascade of symptoms throughout your body.
Parkinson’s disease most notably causes motor symptoms. “Motor symptoms” is a term healthcare providers use to describe any symptom that makes it harder for you to move (or control your movements).
Parkinson’s motor symptoms include:
Parkinson’s disease can also cause many types of non-motor symptoms. These issues affect your body and mind in different ways. Non-motor symptoms may impact your mood, sense of smell or vision, to name just a few.
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Parkinson’s disease and sleep are connected in complex ways that not even scientists completely understand quite yet.
Sometimes, Parkinson’s disease directly causes sleep problems. According to one study, sleep-related symptoms may be one of the earliest signs of Parkinson’s disease. These signs may include things like thrashing while you’re asleep.
Other factors (like Parkinson’s disease treatments and emotional challenges) can also play a role. One thing is clear: For many people with Parkinson’s disease, a restful night’s sleep can be hard to find.
Many people with Parkinson’s disease experience sleep problems. Researchers estimate that up to 2 in 3 people with Parkinson’s disease have had trouble sleeping.
Researchers have yet to uncover every nuance of the Parkinson’s and sleep connection. So far, medical experts believe several causes may contribute:
Parkinson’s disease affects every person differently. It also impacts sleep in different ways. People with Parkinson’s may have:
Up to half of people with Parkinson’s disease may have this disorder. Your body “acts out” dreams, making strange or possibly dangerous movements while sleeping. Some researchers believe REM sleep behavior disorder could be one of the earliest signs of Parkinson’s.
Sleep disorders that commonly affect people with Parkinson’s disease include:
Not everyone with Parkinson’s disease experiences sleep issues. If you do, they can occur at any point before or after a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis.
If you’re having problems sleeping, sit down with your healthcare provider to discuss the issue in detail. Your provider will ask you questions to better understand your symptoms.
Be prepared to explain when sleep disruptions happen and how they affect your life. Keeping a sleep journal for a few weeks can help you remember the details.
If your provider suspects you may have a sleep disorder, they may recommend you have a sleep study. This overnight test uses electrodes attached to your skin to track how your body functions when you’re sleeping.
Your provider will recommend treatments that address what’s causing your sleeping challenges. Your provider may:
Practicing healthy “sleep hygiene” habits may also promote more restful sleep.
Unfortunately, they’re not. Over-the-counter sleeping medicines may feel like an easy and safe bet to try fixing your sleep issues. But they can pose extra risks for people with Parkinson’s disease.
Some over-the-counter and prescription sleep medicines can make sleep problems worse. Certain sleep medications can have serious drug interactions with Parkinson’s medications. Always talk to your provider before taking any new medication, especially a sleep aid.
Reach out to your provider if trouble sleeping harms your quality of life. Always call your healthcare provider if you experience symptoms that worry you, especially if they could put you or those around you in danger.
Sometimes, a sleep disturbance could be a sign of depression related to Parkinson's disease. If you’ve lost interest in activities you once loved or feel numb to what’s going on in your life, reach out to a provider you trust. Some people feel better after starting a new medication or talking to someone about what they’re feeling. You don’t have to feel like this.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Researchers continue to study the sleep-Parkinson’s disease relationship. Understanding more about how Parkinson’s affects sleep (and vice versa) may lead to earlier detection of Parkinson’s disease and more effective treatments. Even now, you have plenty of options to treat sleep problems. Be open with your provider about any sleep issues you’re having. Together, you can find a plan that improves your sleep as well as any other challenges Parkinson’s disease may create in your life.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/25/2021.
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