Parkinson's Disease and Sleep

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shortened life expectancy and may find it difficult to maintain their quality of life. Striving to maintain healthy sleep habits can help Parkinson’s patients with both the physical and psychological symptoms of their disease.


The hallmark symptoms of Parkinson's disease are tremor, rigidity, slow movements and problems maintaining balance. Other symptoms may include difficulty walking, talking, eating, or carrying out other simple tasks. Parkinson’s patients also suffer incontinence, constipation, and sexual dysfunction and are at higher risk for developing depression, anxiety, memory, and emotional problems.

Because Parkinson's disease is associated with "sleep attacks," patients may be suddenly overcome with drowsiness and fall asleep – regardless of what they are doing. This is particularly dangerous for those patients who are still driving, operating equipment (even kitchen and lawn equipment or other tools) or caring for dependents.

Not everyone with Parkinson's disease develops all or even most of the symptoms described above. The rate at which the disease progresses is also variable, with some people experiencing a rapid worsening of symptoms shortly after being diagnosed and others spending many years with only mild symptoms.


With Parkinson’s disease, there is a gradual loss of dopaminergic cells in the brain. There is no treatment for slowing or reversing this process, but there are drugs used to treat the symptoms that result. These drug therapies can dramatically improve quality of life for Parkinson's patients. Here are some of the most common types:

  • Dopaminergic agents – a class of drugs made from the neurotransmitter dopamine; these are the most effective therapies for Parkinson's patients, improving all of the motor symptoms. Some dopaminergic medications may cause sleepiness.
  • COMT inhibitors – block an enzyme that breaks down dopamine; decreases "off time" in Parkinson's patients, which is a period of impaired movement.
  • MAO-B inhibitors – prolong the action of dopamine in the brain to improve symptoms; may cause insomnia.
  • Anti-cholinergics – restore the balance between acetylcholine and dopamine, thus improving tremor and rigidity.
  • Amantadine – an antiviral drug that improves tremor, rigidity, and movement control.

Following diagnosis and the start of treatment, Parkinson's patients may experience a