Sleep patterns and reducing time in bed awake

Getting to sleep and staying asleep at night can be more difficult if you have Parkinson's. Reducing time in bed awake can also be difficult. Find out more about managing these issues.

Sleep patterns

Most people have a ‘normal’ sleep pattern. This means they have a regular time when they are tired and need roughly the same amount of sleep each night.

Sleep patterns are set by your body clock, which follows the 24-hour day. Moods and feelings also affect your sleep pattern. This is why, even if it’s your usual bedtime, you can stay alert and awake for longer if you’re enjoying the company of friends or family, or busy with an activity that interests you. It also explains why it can be hard to fall asleep at your usual time if there’s something on your mind or you’re in an unfamiliar place.

In everyday life, habits and routines support normal sleep patterns. Keeping regular hours and getting up at the same time every day helps to set your body clock, making you feel tired at roughly the same time each night. Bedtime routines help you get ready to fall asleep and a familiar bed and bedroom add a sense of calm and security. We call this good ‘sleep hygiene’.

How can sleep patterns affect me?

When routines and habits are disturbed, sleep is too. This often happens (at least for a night or 2) when you go away on holiday, or when you’re ill. Usually these episodes don’t last long, and routines and sleep patterns soon return to normal.

If there are other things affecting your sleep, your habits and routines may also be disturbed. If this happens, you may stop feeling tired at bedtime and your bedroom may not feel like a place of calm and security. It then becomes difficult to get into the right frame of mind for sleep.

This means that sometimes, even if the original cause of your sleep problem is sorted out or reduced, you can still have difficulties.

Sleep, yoga and Parkinson's

Jo lives on the North East coast with her husband daughters and dog. We interviewed her about how she uses yoga, apps and other tips to help her sleep well.

How can I reduce time in bed awake?

Reducing the amount of time you spend in bed awake can help strengthen or re-establish the ‘triggers’ for sleepiness.

If you are not sleeping, it may be tempting to stay in bed until you fall asleep. And it may help in the short term, but it’s not effective in the long run.

As you spend longer in bed, sleep becomes more ‘broken’ and restless, and the insomnia symptoms carry on.

Even if you don’t think you’re spending too much time in bed, there is no reason to stay in bed if you’re not asleep.

Find out more about insomnia and other sleep issues you may experience.

Leave time to unwind

Try to leave at least an hour to unwind before you go to bed. Try to do any activity, such as reading, watching television, listening to music or talking, before you go to bed.

When it’s time for bed try not to think too much about the day or your plans for tomorrow.

Try to set aside time earlier in the evening to think about any issues.

It may be helpful to write down any worries or concerns during this time and then plan how you’ll deal with them at a later date.

There isn’t anything wrong with thinking about the things going on in your life and trying to solve problems, but try to put any concerns or negative thoughts to one side before you go to bed.

Go to bed only when sleepy

First, it’s important to be aware of the difference between being tired and being sleepy.

  • Tiredness is a feeling of exhaustion. But it does not always involve the need to sleep.
  • Sleepiness means being ready to fall asleep. Signs of sleepiness may include yawning, having ‘heavy’ eyelids or sore eyes, or even feeling a little unsteady.

Waiting to be sleepy before going to bed can help you fall asleep faster.

Going to bed too early can give you time to worry (about problems or being unable to fall asleep) and that, of course, can keep you awake.

If you don’t fall asleep, try to get up. Lying in bed trying to get to sleep can make you feel anxious or frustrated. So try getting up after about 20 minutes, go to another room and do something quiet and calm, such as reading.

If you need help getting out of bed, talk to your partner or carer about what you’re doing (if you have one). If they are prepared, and understand what is going on, it will be much easier for you both.

Go back to bed only when you feel sleepy. Try not to leave your bedroom only to fall asleep in a chair or on the sofa as this doesn’t help to build the link between your bed and sleep.

You may have to get up several times during the night if you can’t fall asleep at bedtime or you wake during the night and can’t get back to sleep. This can be difficult at first, but if you keep trying with this method your mind will soon link your bed and bedroom with getting to sleep quickly.

One common problem is going back to bed too soon after getting up. Some people think that if you stay up too long, you will never get back to sleep. In fact, the opposite is true: the longer you stay up, the quicker you fall asleep when you go back to bed.

You may not feel like leaving the comfort of your bed, particularly if you think you could be cold or bored while waiting to get sleepy.

If this is the case, try keeping a warm blanket or dressing gown near your bed, have a comfortable place to sit in the house and keep things to do there. These shouldn’t be so interesting that your mind becomes too active, but not so boring that you have no motivation to get up.

Some things you can try if you need to get up are:

  • reading
  • watching television
  • listening to the radio
  • doing a crossword puzzle
  • knitting
  • writing

Things to avoid:

  • doing housework or cleaning
  • taking a walk or exercising
  • working on a computer or tablet
  • worrying
  • relaxing on the bed or in a chair

Use an alarm clock

Set an alarm clock and, if you are able to, get out of bed at roughly the same time every morning. Do this if it’s a weekday or the weekend. It will help reset your body clock and restore your sleep–wake pattern.

It’s common to ‘lie in’ to make up for lost sleep. This can help in the short term, but it’s best to stick to a regular routine.

Try not to nap during the day

For many people, napping during the day affects their quality of night-time sleep, and reduces the amount of deep sleep they get.

Some people with Parkinson’s find they need a nap during the day.

Certain medication, for example, can make people very sleepy. If this is the case, try to nap for a short time only, for around 20 minutes.

This should not have too much of an impact on your night-time sleep.

Set an alarm clock to wake you after 20 minutes if you’re worried you’ll sleep for longer.

10 tips to help you sleep well

10 sleep hygiene ‘rules’, recommended by psychologists, to help you get a good night's sleep with Parkinson's.

Download PDF or order a printed copy 

Sleep and night-time problems in Parkinson's (PDF, 641KB)

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