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Man wearing pajamas sleeps with unease; the sun and the moon above him exchange concerned looks among stars.

Parkinson’s Disease: To Nap or Not to Nap?

We know from research and general observation – even first-hand experience – that Parkinson’s disease (PD) can have a detrimental impact on nighttime sleep.

  • People with PD may struggle to fall asleep or to maintain sleep (insomnia).
  • Sleep fragmentation (frequent nighttime awakening) is common in people with PD.
  • PD symptoms can disrupt sleep, including anxiety or depression, excessive sweating, tremors, frequent urination, and body incoordination.
  • Medications used to treat PD can also lead to sleep problems, including nightmares, insomnia, withdrawal symptoms mid-way through the night causing wakefulness, and restless legs

And with poor sleep comes problems during the day with unwelcomed sleepiness.

What about napping? Can daytime napping help or hinder one’s energy and alertness if they have PD?

The benefits of napping with Parkinson’s

Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), defined by the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s, is “an inability to maintain wakefulness and alertness during the major waking episodes of the day that results in periods of irrepressible need for sleep or unintended lapses into drowsiness or sleep.”1

In other words, EDS can be life-altering and disabling for people with PD.

Daytime napping, when planned and kept to a short period (less than 30 minutes) can be restorative for sleepy folks living with PD. It can also be helpful to take these naps before 3pm, as they can provide an energizing “second wind” later in the day.

The dark side of naps for people with Parkinson’s

Planned versus unplanned naps

Planned napping is an important concept to consider here. Unplanned, or unintended, napping is not the same thing and may be cause for concern.

Unintended sleep episodes can be a dangerous side effect of not getting quality nighttime sleep or could be related to medication side effects.

When one suddenly falls asleep, this is a sign that the body and brain are dealing with something out of balance.

These sudden sleep episodes can occur during driving or while performing other tasks where safety may be of concern. Sudden sleepiness, as a regular feature of living with PD, can also disconnect people from activities they love and interfere with time spent with family.

Unplanned naps may not be a solution for EDS if they are long-lasting, inconsistent, and do not result in waking up refreshed and energized.

Research published in Innovation in Aging in 2017 looked at unplanned naps among people aged 65 or older (not accounting for chronic illness) and found that almost 60 percent of those surveyed took unplanned naps. Almost 20 percent of the same baseline population took long naps of more than 1 hour. Both groups’ napping behaviors were associated with poorer self-reported health and a higher number of chronic conditions.2

Long naps may be correlated with a higher PD risk factor

Some research also points to naps as being associated with a higher risk for developing PD among older men.3 Last June, the International Journal of Epidemiology published a study that found that men who napped at least an hour every day were more likely to develop PD. Fortunately, it appears that napping for 30 minutes or less did not result in the same risk factors for PD.

Solutions for daytime sleepiness

Sleep hygiene

The Michael J. Fox foundation offers some simple solutions that may help improve nighttime sleep, which by default can help prevent daytime sleepiness:4

  • Plan your daytime naps, and limit them to less than 30 minutes. Longer and later naps disrupt circadian rhythms and make it harder to fall asleep at night.
  • Stick to a bedtime routine that includes sleep-friendly activities that help you relax, and maintain a consistent bedtime and wake time, even on the weekends.
  • Avoid blue spectrum light exposure at night by turning off computers and handheld electronic devices an hour before bedtime. The light emitted from these screens suppresses the melatonin production in the brain which is necessary to help the brain and body transition to sleep.
  • Try not to drink too much fluid before bedtime to prevent the need for nighttime trips to the bathroom.
  • Avoid caffeine after lunch and alcohol at bedtime. Both will disrupt your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Daytime exercise (the earlier in the day, the better) can help the circadian system stay on track and usually leads to better sleep at night.

Questions to ask yourself

  1. Are short, planned daytime naps useless against your EDS?
  2. Do you take short naps that last longer than you intended?
  3. Do you practice good sleep hygiene and still struggle with nighttime sleep problems and EDS?

If so, this might be a good time to approach a neurologist with your concerns. You might have a medication side effect to address, a hidden sleep disorder, or other health condition that needs treatment.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The ParkinsonsDisease.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. https://www.davisphinneyfoundation.org/blog/sleepiness-and-fatigue-in-parkinsons-what-to-do-about-it/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6243498/pdf/igx004.957.pdf
  3. https://academic.oup.com/ije/article-abstract/47/5/1679/5033024?redirectedFrom=fulltext
  4. https://www.michaeljfox.org/files/031416_MJFF_SLEEP_GUIDE_SM.pdf

Comments

  • Twinkle
    3 months ago

    Hi Tamara,
    I have spoken to my Neurologist about this and he is referring me to the sleep study clinic as he feels that it is my moderately severe sleep apnea and he said it will limit what medication he can give me. My husband who also has PD has had a branch retinal vein occulsion for which he has to have heavy chemo type drugs injected into his eye so he will not be able to drive home from his first appointment next week, so we are deciding whether to bus it there and get a taxi home or get a chauffeur driven hire car to take us there and pick us up after the appointment!

  • TK Sellman author
    2 months ago

    I hope you found good luck with your sleep study and with all the transportation arrangements and that you find the best solution moving forward. <3
    Tamara

  • Twinkle
    4 months ago

    Hi,
    I am having unplanned naps and two days ago I was reading a book drinking my coffee in my reclining chair, when one of these unplanned naps happened! It certainly woke me when I spilled hot coffee on my chest when it tilted and then tilted it the other way when I woke up and tried to straighten the cup up! So it burnt me twice! But I am still having unplanned naps! I see my Neurologist tomorrow and will let him know this is happening! I don’t think it is safe for me to drive while this is happening in case I nodded at the wheel and caused an accident!

  • TK Sellman author
    3 months ago

    I’m so glad you are staying away from driving until you work this out. <3

    I hope you had a good discussion with your neurologist.

    Tamara

  • Twinkle
    3 months ago

    Hi Tamara,
    I have spoken to my Neurologist about this and he is referring me to the sleep study clinic as he feels that it is my moderately severe sleep apnea (for which I am not using a CPAP machine at the moment) which is causing the problem and so he wants it looked into as he said it will limit what medication he can give me. My husband who also has PD has had a branch retinal vein occulsion for which he has to have heavy chemo type drugs injected into his eye so he will not be able to drive home from his first appointment next week, so we are deciding whether to bus it there and get a taxi home or get a chauffeur driven hire car to take us there and pick us up after the appointment!

  • JeffD
    4 months ago

    I suppose I am one of the few Parkies who is also a sleep researcher. I think the advice here is sage in that 30 min naps are very beneficial for anyone but esp those with PD since sleep probs are common. Also keep in mind that the epidemiology study referenced here is correlational so you can’t assume any causation. In other words, napping does not cause PD but the behavior might predict its onset. It is a fact that those who sleep poorly have EDS and thus likely to nap. Thanks for this post!

  • Twinkle
    2 months ago

    Thank you JeffD for your reply and information!
    Kind regards,
    Twinkle (Sandra)

  • TK Sellman author
    3 months ago

    You’re welcome! And high five to my fellow sleep medicine professional! (I’m an RPSGT, CCSH).

    Thank you for pointing out correlation doesn’t imply causation, we can never say that too much out here on the interwebs.

    Tamara

  • Chris H. moderator
    4 months ago

    Thanks for your feedback on this post, @jeffd. I know you’ve stated before elsewhere on the site that you’re an educator. Very interesting to hear you’re involved with sleep research as well. If you’re interested, we’d love to hear more about your PD journey by sharing your story here: https://parkinsonsdisease.net/stories/. Hope to hear from you! – Chris, ParkinsonsDisease.net Team

  • TK Sellman author
    3 months ago

    oooh, I hope you will, Jeff!
    Tamara

  • ReconDoc
    4 months ago

    I try to avoid day time naps, and am on sleep medication.In 1999, the VA found me 100% Disabled due to Chronic, Severe Post Traumatic Stress Disease due to combat related flashbacks, uncontrolled anger issues, depression and anxiety. Every day is a struggle between conflicting medication.

  • TK Sellman author
    3 months ago

    You have my utmost sympathy, ReconDoc. I wish there were better options for people with combat PTSD and have worked with a couple of researchers who are working hard to find them. Living with this condition + all the adverse side effects is unacceptable. You deserve better. Thank you for your service <3
    Tamara

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