The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sleep and LBD

This week's blog is an excerpt from our new book, Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson's and Other Lewy Body Disorders:

For the Lewy partner, sleep is a conundrum. The healthy brain needs rest to function properly. A brain with Lewy bodies must work harder and so it needs even more rest. However, this may not be easy.

Falling asleep and staying asleep at night may be easier said than done. Sleep disturbances such as Active Dreams, sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome can interrupt sleep. Excessive daytime sleep causes sleep rhythms to change and decrease nighttime sleeping. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that LBD families clamor for a safe sleeping pill.

Sadly, most common sleep medications are strong sedatives and therefore may not be safe for someone at risk for this disorder. There are some safer alternatives however:

Melatonin. Talk to the doctor about trying this natural hormone. It triggers wake and sleep cycles and may work as a Lewy-safe sleep aid. A possible side effect is depression—another common LBD symptom. However, since the results will be temporary, it might be worth a try. If it does cause depression, try using melatonin in combination with bright lights, below, to decrease such side effects.

In addition, try these non-drug suggestions:

Daytime activity. Stay active during the day, even if it is an effort. A person who sleeps or just sits around all day isn’t going to sleep as well at night as one who keeps busy.

Short naps. Especially later in the journey, too much stimulation during the day can cause night-time wakefulness. Consider an early afternoon nap to limit stimulation.

A calm, dark, airy bedroom. Have good air exchange, and a minimal number of blinking lights from clocks, etc. The air exchange makes breathing easier. Blinking lights can trigger confusion, especially for anyone half asleep.

A set routine. As with everything else, routines help sleep come easier for the Lewy partner. Include a set bedtime and the same few low stress, enjoyable activities each evening.

Avoid evening excitement. Watch soothing TV shows and avoid anything boisterous or argumentative, or even just stimulating. Such shows can trigger Active Dreams or nightmares.

Bright lights. Have bright light exposure during the day. A bright-light box early in the morning might help to adjust wake-sleep rhythms. During the rest of the day, be around as much natural daylight as possible. Sunlight and bright-light boxes can also help depression. Warning: Be prepared with sunglasses to protect the eyes.

Medication time change. Caregivers often report that dementia drugs such as Exelon or Aricept taken in the evenings increase the likelihood of Active Dreams, nightmares and general restlessness. Ask the doctor if the time can be moved to morning. Likewise, anxiety management medications such as Seroquel may work best in the evening, when the calming effects facilitate sleep.

For more about LBD, read A Caregiver's Guide to Lewy Body Dementia or go to

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