Parkinson’s disease is a common neurodegenerative disease with no known cure. Treating the sleep disorders associated with Parkinson’s may offer hope.
Parkinson’s disease is caused by a loss of the ability of neurons in the brain to make dopamine, a neurotransmitter that aids in cognitive function, emotional control, motor coordination and a variety of other vital functions. Parkinson’s is usually associated with the elderly, but it can affect people who are middle-aged and younger. Symptoms begin slowly, usually including sleep problems and an inability to smell (anosmia) years before motor symptoms occur and a diagnosis is made. New research suggests that sleep disorders in the years preceding the onset of the disease may be a risk factor, one that can be controlled to lessen incidence of this debilitating disease.
Parkinson’s Disease and Sleep
Scientists have long known that sleep—or the lack of it—is related to Parkinson’s disease. Disruption of sleep-wake cycles is one of the earliest symptoms, and this disruption becomes worse as the disease progresses. However, doctors believed that the sleep disorders were a result of the disease progression and not a cause. New research is suggesting that controlling the sleep disorders that are present in the early stages of Parkinson’s may delay the onset of motor symptoms for years, allowing people to live longer and healthier lives with this debilitating disease. In addition, having disturbed sleep-wake cycles can actually contribute to the development of the disease.
Could Melatonin Help?
Although Parkinson’s is associated with a decrease of dopamine in the brain, melatonin also appears to play a role. This could explain why sleep disorders are associated with the disease. As Parkinson’s progresses, melatonin receptors in the brain decrease. Taking timed-release melatonin can help people with Parkinson’s to sleep and also protect their brain from further degenerative change. Several studies have suggested that stabilizing sleep cycles with the use of melatonin should be a standard part of treatment for this disease.
Circadian Rhythm and Neurodegenerative Disease
Parkinson’s disease is not the only disease to be linked to circadian rhythm disorders and disrupted sleep-wake cycles. Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease, two other common neurodegenerative diseases, both are linked to disturbed sleep. Researchers and doctors believe that controlling the sleep disturbances in these diseases may be an important form of early intervention, delaying the onset of more severe motor and cognitive symptoms. In addition, most neurodegenerative diseases are caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Sleep disturbance may be one of the factors that contribute to the development of these diseases.
It should come as no surprise that sleep is important to your brain function in the short term. However, it may contribute to a healthy brain in the long term as well. Because of melatonin’s role in protecting the brain from degeneration, it may be the next big treatment for Parkinson’s disease and a variety of neurodegenerative diseases. Getting a good night’s sleep has never been this good for you.