Insomnia and Parkinson’s.

Insomnia is a bedfellow of Parkinson’s disease and I have suffered from it.

The word insomnia is used quite freely to describe poor sleep. We have all heard a member of the family or a friend telling us that they have been awake in bed covers all night’. Often, we’re told this in circumstances where we have heard the person concerned snoring heavily during the night. The person concerned has usually had a broken night’s sleep and has woken feeling tired.

The type of insomnia that I suffered from was unequivocal. It was “full on” insomnia. There was no question of my thinking that I had not slept well when in fact I had. No, I could recount every long waking minute. At first, I would try going to bed much later than I have in the past. That made no difference. I then tried all the other known good practices (good sleep hygiene): no stimulants, no electronic devices immediately before bed etc. The results were that I was staying awake for two or three hours before dozing off. This would also mean that I would find myself dozing off in an easy chair by mid afternoon for half an hour or so.

I was unable to fight the desire for sleep in the afternoon although it had been recommended to me that I did so. I have one thing that helped me. As I was despairing after two or three hours of full-on, in your face sleeplessness, I would get out of bed about 2.30 to 3 o’clock in the morning, go downstairs and have a bowl of cereal. Sometimes, I supplemented that by reading the paper at the same time for about 15 minutes or so. This helped a little, as it broke whatever thought patterns I had been locked into.

It was however no complete solution. Things got worse. So I would find it was now 4 o’clock and I still had not slept.  Then, often, I would send an e-mail to await my secretary’s arrival at work to tell her that I would not be in on time. I suspect that part of my motivation was to demonstrate by the time recorded on the e-mail that I was not exaggerating my insomnia!

One thing that did help as my experiments progressed, at or about 4 o’clock, was going to sit in the chair in which I would doze mid-afternoon, and I found that I would fall asleep in it for 30 minutes or so. When I woke I would go straight back to bed and would then find it possible to sleep. It was as if the spell had been broken.

All this, though, was having an enormously draining effect upon my energy and I eventually sought medical help. My doctor told me that he could prescribe tablets that would eventually knock me out but would leave me feeling very groggy the following day. Alternatively he suggested (without much conviction) that I took some melatonin tablets. These worked immediately and I have slept pretty well for the best part of the year. I do have the very occasional bad night. I do not know the success rate of these tablets but they worked for me.

About the same time as the melatonin prescription I also acquired an adjustable bed. This is great for reading in bed because it can prop you up in a seating position. You can also adjust the bed so that it offers the most comfortable sleeping position. I cannot say that the bed was the primary cause of my improved sleep but it must have helped. So, my advice to insomniacs who have tried the usual remedies is to get up and do something different for a while. Or, try sleeping in the chair that you nod off in during the day. Perhaps try an adjustable bed. At worst you will lie awake in comfort! Finally, see if your doctor will prescribe a short course of melatonin based tablets.

Tony Gregory.