Current Treatment Options in Neurology

, Volume 14, Issue 5, pp 474-492

First online:

Neurodegenerative Disease and REM Behavior Disorder

  • Raman MalhotraAffiliated withSLUCare Sleep Disorders Center, Department of Neurology and Psychiatry, Saint Louis University School of Medicine
  • , Alon Y. AvidanAffiliated withDepartment of Neurology, UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, UCLA Neurology Clinic Email author 

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Opinion statement

Patients with cerebral degenerative conditions commonly suffer from a variety of sleep disorders, including sleep-disordered breathing, insomnia, parasomnias (REM sleep behavior disorder), circadian rhythm disturbances, and restless legs syndrome. When these sleep disorders go unrecognized and untreated, they can lead to decreased quality of life and worsening neurological symptoms related to the underlying condition. Appropriate management initially requires taking a careful history from the patient and bed partner regarding their sleep. In addition, polysomnography may be required to aid in the diagnosis of sleep-disordered breathing or parasomnias. Occasionally, adjusting the dosages of sedating or sleep disrupting medications and improving sleep hygiene may improve sleep complaints. However, in most cases restoring quality nighttime sleep requires specific therapeutic intervention. In patients that suffer from sleep apnea, this usually means treatment with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), positional therapy, dental appliances, upper airway surgery, or weight loss. Pharmacological treatment of insomnia in patients with cerebral degenerative conditions can be difficult due to side effects (worsening balance, cognition) and lack of data in this patient population. Behavioral strategies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy have been effective and are considered safer than hypnotic therapy, but can be limited due to access to trained providers (distance and number of providers) and limited cognitive functioning of the patient. Parasomnias, namely REM sleep behavior disorder, are managed by looking for any underlying cause of arousals (sleep apnea, periodic leg movements of sleep), implementing safety precautions, and pharmacologically with either benzodiazepines or melatonin. Restless legs syndrome may improve with iron replacement or dopamine agonist therapy, as it does in other patient populations. Light therapy may be beneficial in patients suffering from circadian rhythm disorders such as advanced sleep phase syndrome.


Dementia Parkinson’s disease Alzheimer’s disease Sundowning REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) Sleep apnea Insomnia Circadian rhythm disorder ALS Motor neuron disease Hypersomnia Narcolepsy Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) Neurodegenerative disease