Vivid Dreams and Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s disease affects neurons in the brain that release a molecule called dopamine. Dopamine helps to regulate our movements, emotions, and sleep. Damage to these neurons can affect your motor function, the way you think, and the way you sleep.1
More than 75 percent of those living with Parkinson’s report having issues with their sleep. There is a lot of variation, but common issues include broken sleep and vivid dreams. This difficulty sleeping can affect daytime function too. Those living with Parkinson’s often report excessive sleepiness during the day.1
What causes vivid dreams?
Vivid dreams are a common Parkinson’s symptom. Like all dreams, these may be pleasant, odd, or even frightening. They may also be upsetting or disturb your sleep.2
Most dreams happen during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, though some can occur in non-REM sleep. Dreams during REM sleep are often more vivid. During this time, your brain sends signals to your body to keep your muscles still. This makes sure that you do not act out your dreams.2
Dopamine is a very important molecule that works all over your brain. Experts believe that the damage to brain cells that release dopamine can occur in the areas of the brain that control sleep. Damage to these areas is thought to cause vivid dreams.3 Other things that make vivid dreams more likely include:2
- Broken or fragmented sleep: Waking up during or right after a dream can make it easier to remember. Broken sleep is also another Parkinson’s symptom, which may explain the connection.
- Stress: Studies have shown that stress during the day can result in upsetting dreams. These are often more memorable.
- Medications: Some drugs can interrupt your sleep or cause vivid dreams. Scientists believe that Parkinson’s drugs can do this because they increase dopamine. Dopamine can help relieve your symptoms but also may act on areas of the brain responsible for dreams.
Are there treatment options?
Vivid dreams are generally normal and not concerning.2 However, some people find vivid dreams disturbing or find that they make it difficult to sleep. Many report that sleep troubles affect their day-to-day life. Sleep disturbance is also linked to depression and poor quality of life. Improving sleep could go a long way towards improving these issues.3
Melatonin is a molecule that your brain naturally makes. It helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. It can be found as an over-the-counter drug in most pharmacies and stores. Some people have found that taking melatonin nightly reduces their dreams and helps them sleep.2
Another prescription drug that may help with dreams is Klonopin© (clonazepam). This is a long-acting sedative. It does not work to immediately put you to sleep. Rather, it works more gently to help regulate your sleep.4
What can I do to improve sleep?
People respond to different medications differently. Sedatives may not be the best choice for everyone. Whether you are or are not taking drugs to reduce your vivid dreams, improving your sleep hygiene may help.4
Sleep hygiene refers to the behaviors we have around sleeping. Setting yourself up for the best sleep that you can have may reduce the likelihood of vivid dreams. It may also reduce excessive daytime sleepiness. Here are some more tips:4
- Follow a regular sleeping schedule. Ideally, 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night is best. It is also helpful to wake up and fall asleep around the same time every night. This helps your brain to get into a schedule.
- Try to keep your bed as a place only for sleeping and intimacy. Other activities like reading or watching TV should happen in other rooms.
- Napping during the day may feel helpful if you experience excessive daytime sleepiness. However, naps longer than 30 minutes may make it difficult to get a full night’s sleep.
- Our brains respond to the amount of light that we see during the day, especially daylight. Spend as much time in daylight as possible. Then, ensure your bedroom is dark when you go to sleep. This can help regulate your sleep.
If you or a loved one is experiencing vivid dreams that are upsetting or that are disrupting your quality of life, speak to your doctor about treatment options.
Do you participate in a support group for PD?