There are all kinds of benefits to getting enough sleep: It’s good for your heart, it can help to reduce stress, it may even prevent cancer. And of course, it’s good for your brain too. This week, a study from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia finds that if you can improve sleep in a Parkinson’s disease (PD) patient, you can also improve their working memory function.
Many with PD suffer from difficult sleeping: In addition to a general difficulty falling and then staying asleep, some deal with restless leg syndrome (an uncontrollable urge to move the legs during sleep). Others experience intense nightmares. The Emory study suggests that if doctors can better address these symptoms of the disease, more than just being better rested, people with PD may improve their cognitive function as well. Specifically, the kind of memory essential to daily function gets better.
It’s a reality that highlights what’s becoming a broader focus for The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) and the PD research community – the real need to help patients with non-motor symptoms to improve their quality of life.
To this end, MJFF is supporting work into better understanding changes taking place in the course of Parkinson’s, including the cognitive impairment which is common to many with the disease. This includes a partnership with Sanofi to develop a drug candidate which has shown promise in pre-clinical models of cognition. To date, the drug landscape for people dealing with Parkinson's-related cognitive impairment is largely barren. Such a drug would mean addressing a significant area of unmet need for people with PD.
In addition, some scientists believe that the reasons to study the relationship between disordered sleep and Parkinson's may go beyond quality of life issues for patients. Bill Langston, MD, of the Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale, California, is studying the biological processes behind REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD), which may hold clues to PD-related processes taking place before motor symptoms become evident. Understanding these processes could make it possible to diagnose the disease earlier.