Sleep disorder is one of the most common and incapacitating non-motor (non-movement) symptoms experienced by people living with Parkinson’s disease.

Many people with Parkinson’s disease have trouble falling or staying asleep at night. Some sleep problems are caused by Parkinson’s symptoms, while others may be the result of the medications used to treat those symptoms. Factors unrelated to Parkinson’s can also impact sleep, including other medical conditions, normal aging or poor “sleep hygiene” (habits that prevent or interrupt a regular sleep schedule). This can lead to fatigue and a decreased quality of life.

That’s why it’s important to develop and maintain good sleep habits and to seek help if sleep problems are affecting your daily routine and quality of life.

There are steps you can take to improve your sleep, especially when dealing with issues, such as difficulty staying asleep at night and excessive sleepiness during the day.

Sleep hygiene refers to the behaviours and habits that we can control. These are ones that affect our bodies’ day-night cycling and readiness to go to sleep or to be alert at a given time of day. Follow these tips for better sleeping habits:

Tips to assist sleeping include:

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and exercise late in the day. Caffeine consumed in the afternoon can keep you awake at night. Although alcohol may seem to help you fall asleep more easily, it may interrupt your sleep later in the night. Working out regularly earlier in the day can improve sleep overall but exercising too close to bedtime might make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Limit daytime naps. Sleeping too much during the day, especially late in the day, may prevent you from sleeping well at night.
  • Don’t drink too much fluid before bed. This is especially important if you experience frequent night time urination.
  • Eat a light meal one or two hours before bed.
  • Use the bedroom only for sleep and intimacy. Don’t watch television, read, use your telephone or do anything other than sleep in bed. When you use your bed just for sleep, your body and mind will automatically know what’s supposed to happen when you get into bed.
  • Create a bedtime routine. An hour before bed, start to prepare for sleep. Turn off the television, computer and other electronics that emit stimulating light. Get your body and mind into the habit of winding down and preparing for sleep.
  • Keep a regular schedule. Go to sleep and get up at around the same time every day, even at the weekend.
  • Avoid exposure to bright light during the evening and at night.
  • Avoid thoughts or discussions about topics that cause anxiety, anger, and frustration before bedtime
  • If necessary, perform a bedtime routine before you go to bed that includes relaxing activities such as listening to calm music, brushing your teeth, taking a warm bath, etc.
  • You can also use relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation and breathing exercises. You should discuss the best techniques for you with your doctor.

Sleep better - what else can my doctor do?

Sleep disorders can vary widely: some Parkinson's patients find it difficult to sleep through the night; others cannot fall asleep, or suffer from a shift in the sleep-wake cycle. If you have any sleep problems, identify which type(s) you have and talk to your doctor about the possibilities of taking medication.

Nocturnal immobility, over-movement or tremor often occur when the effect of medication decreases. The resulting sleep disorders can often be treated by adjusting the medication.

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