Image of frightened eyes.

Nightmare on Parkinson's Street

Last updated: November 2020

Freddy Krueger's frightened teens have nothing to compare with my most recent 'Nightmare on Parkinson's Street!'. The disfigured "midnight mangler" who visits unsuspecting teens managed to surreptitiously sneak inside my bedroom and crawl next to me in the wee hours of a recent morning. While a peaceful sleeping household quietly passed the night, a sudden outburst of cursing cracked through the dark. Immediately, I was awakened by yet another one of my husband's Parkinson's disease induced nightmares.

Instantly he settled from the disturbance playing inside his mind. The house was quiet once again as I settled back to sleep when suddenly screamed a "MUTHA F**@kR!!" and he lurched over only to grab my left arm above the wrist, violently squeeze, and begin to jerk, tug and wrestle me in bed, pulling me under him. As his free hand began to roll into a striking fist, I realized in fear "I'm in trouble!"

About to be tousled beneath a dreaming husband and buried beneath him in our bed for an impending fistfight, I struggled to release my arm and wake him from the attacker he was desperately fighting as his nightmare suddenly became mine too!

When morning finally came, we were both exhausted.

The link between sleep & Parkinson's

"For most people night is a time of rest and renewal, however, for many people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) night all too often brings anything but." The American Parkinson's Disease Association discusses "Sleep Problems in Parkinson's Disease" to include "...very detailed and often frightening visions. Delusions (often paranoid in nature) may occur as well."1

My husband was diagnosed with PD ten years ago. Together, we talk about the progression of not just the physical symptoms but also the cognitive issues as well. Way back in 2008 when Dan was diagnosed, I was a busy caregiver managing the night time needs of toddler boys and a sleepwalking sister. Now, my nights have transformed to confrontations with imaginary demons, intruders, and this night, a rifle-bearing burglar.

Four steps to sleeping better

In an effort to improve the quality of sleep for my husband with Parkinson's Disease, and me, I found some helpful suggestions from the American Parkinson's Disease Association's National Headquarters. In case you may also find Freddy Krueger lurking in the corner of your bedroom at night too, here are their "Four Steps to Sleeping Better" without medication:

"Beyond receiving treatment, there are steps you can take personally to improve your sleep. Particularly when dealing with issues such as difficulty maintaining sleep at night and excessive sleepiness during the day, the concept of sleep hygiene is crucial. Sleep hygiene refers to the behaviors and habits that we can control that affect our bodies day-night cycling and readiness to go to sleep or be alert at a given time of day. Follow these tips for better sleeping habits:

  1.  It is especially important for individuals with sleep difficulties to set and follow regular bed/sleep and wake times with a goal of spending at least 7 but not much more than 8 hours in bed each night. Bedtimes should be chosen based on a target waking time (i.e. don’t go to bed at 8 pm if you don’t want to be up at 4 am!).
  2. The bed should be used only as a place of sleeping. Reading and watching television should be done elsewhere.
  3. Daytime napping should be limited to one nap of no greater than 30 minutes, as longer naps do not seem to provide any greater benefit to daytime fatigue but do disrupt sleep drive for the coming night.
  4. Lastly it is vital that persons with these sleep disorders are exposed to as much light (preferably real daylight) and physical/mental stimulation during the day as possible. Light is an important synchronizer of the sleep-wake cycle and many elderly individuals and individuals with chronic illness have reduced exposure to bright light."1

Fighting nightmares with Parkinson's

Guess what? Just before my husband went to sleep that night, he was watching the 11:00 p.m. news which reported a shooting at a convenience store in Florida. Coincidence that two hours into his dreams, he is being attacked by an intruder with a rifle?  Hmmmmm....?

Do you also experience nightmares on Parkinson's Street? Re-read Step #2.

I'm turning off the tv tonight!

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