If You Notice This in the Morning, It May Be an Early Sign of Parkinson's
This subtle symptom is easy to overlook—but it could be pointing toward a problem.
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a lifelong, progressive disorder that can cause difficulty walking, balancing, and completing other fine motor tasks. It occurs when nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine—a chemical that influences movement—die or become otherwise ineffective. Today, nearly one million Americans and over 10 million people worldwide suffer from PD, and that number is expected to rise in the coming decades.
While most people are familiar with PD's movement-related symptoms, including tremors, stiffness, slowness, or hindered coordination, many don't realize just how wide ranging its full array of symptoms can be. One symptom of the condition tends to occur in the morning, and may help alert you to a problem. Read on to find out which red flag to look out to manage a possible case of Parkinson's disease sooner rather than later.
According to a 2016 report by the Parkinson's Disease Foundation (PDF), sleep problems are common among those diagnosed with PD. In particular, waking up early in the morning regardless of one's quality or quantity of sleep may serve as an early sign of the disease.
"Most people with Parkinson's have trouble getting a good night's sleep. Both disease symptoms and anti-Parkinson's medications can interfere with sleep," the foundation explains. "Whether it is a habit from old work schedules or because of a very early bedtime, people with Parkinson's often wake up too early in the morning."
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Waking up early isn't the only way your sleep may be affected by Parkinson's disease. Many individuals diagnosed with Parkinson's report difficulty getting comfortable enough to sleep, inverted sleep schedules in which napping during the day leads to insomnia at night, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and more. PD medications are also known to cause fatigue, making those early morning wake ups all the more difficult.
"If you are experiencing any of these sleep issues, it is best to speak with your doctor to see if there are medications available for your symptoms," says the PDF report. They also suggest that you increase your activity and exercise levels, avoid napping during the day, and establish a consistent sleep schedule if possible.
If your sleep has gone through unexplained changes and you're waking up early on a consistent basis, experts say to keep a look out for other early Parkinson's symptoms. The Parkinson's Foundation says that tremors, changes in handwriting, loss of smell, difficulty walking, slouching posture, constipation, a lowered volume when you speak, and changes in your resting facial expression can all be early signs of the disease.
Not sure if what you're experiencing is related to Parkinson's? The Parkinson's Foundation explains that "No single one of these signs means you should worry about having PD, but if you have more than one sign, you should consider making an appointment to talk to your doctor." If they, too, suspect a problem, they can refer you to a neurologist, connect you with other specialists including physical therapists or occupational therapists, and help you plan for lifestyle changes that will keep you healthier longer.