This article originally appeared in the Fall 2008 edition of PDF's quarterly newsletter, News & Review.
Anyone with Parkinson’s disease (PD) who has struggled through the day on little or no rest knows that sleep disorders can be very disruptive to daily life.
On April 16, Aleksandar Videnovic, M.D., M.Sc., received the 2008 Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF)/American Academy of Neurology Foundation (AANF) Clinician-Scientist Development Award to study this issue. The three-year award was created in 2007 to encourage young clinicians to pursue research or combined clinical/research careers in PD.
Dr. Videnovic will use the award to study the sleep disorder known as daytime somnolence (excessive sleepiness) and its relation to circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are regular changes in processes — biochemical, physiological and behavioral — in our bodies that control our biological clock. While it is known that disturbances in circadian rhythms can cause sleep disorders in the general population, they “have not been systematically studied in PD,” says Dr. Videnovic. He suspects that melatonin, a hormone involved in circadian rhythms, may be contributing to daytime sleepiness and poor overnight sleep in people with PD.
Dr. Videnovic’s interest in sleep disorders began during his postdoctoral training at the University of Illinois in Chicago, where he studied sleep apnea syndrome. Later, while completing a movement disorders fellowship at Rush University, he observed a wide range of sleep disorders in people with PD and saw the impact they had on people’s lives. Working there with Cynthia Comella, M.D., a PDF-funded researcher with expertise in sleep disturbances, he refined his research interests to focus on daytime somnolence and circadian rhythms.
Over the next three years, Dr. Videnovic will test his hypothesis — that people with PD who experience excessive daytime sleepiness have a disruption in circadian rhythms — by studying patterns of sleeping and waking in people with Parkinson’s. He will also receive formal instruction in clinical research design and methodology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and train in the University’s sleep laboratory.
Lastly, he will explore chronobiologic treatments — such as light therapy — that correct imbalances in the body’s circadian rhythms. These treatments may be a more effective solution for sleep disorders than medicated sleep aids, which have proven ineffective in people with PD and have caused unpleasant side effects.
Dr. Videnovic believes his next three years of training and research will lead to an improved understanding of sleep disorders in PD. He also hopes this attention to sleep disorders will lead to the development of practical tools that could be used to treat and manage them, improving quality of life for people with Parkinson’s.
Dr. Videnovic is Assistant Professor of Neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the first recipient of the PDF-AANF Clinician-Scientist Development Award. Please click here to learn more about this award.