There was a knock on my stateroom door as I was retiring for the night. I opened it to see a large Norwegian sailor, dressed in dark blue shirt and trousers. A dark blue knitted cap hugged his head.

“I close window,” he said, with a strong accent.

“It is closed,” said I, as I looked at the porthole above my bed.

“No, other one. Going through North Sea, maybe bad weather.”

I was twenty years old and this was my first time crossing the Atlantic. Leery at first, I recognized that his intent was to help, not to harm. I saw that there was, indeed, an iron window purposed to protect the porthole, and therefore the stateroom. I moved away from the door in the tiny room to allow the seaman access. He closed the window, left, and all was well -- until the next morning.

My stateroom companions were Anna, a young Norwegian who spoke good English, and an elderly woman, Fru (Mrs.)Bachlan, who spoke no English. Each day, the morning light greeted us through the porthole. On this morning, however, it was dark as midnight. The ladies in the stateroom across from us had dressed their little children and let them outside the room, while they got themselves ready for breakfast. The children were chattering noisily.

There had been some commotion the night before in the room next to Fru Bachland’s bunk, and she had knocked on the wall to quiet them. In the darkness of this morning, she assumed that it was still night and began forcefully knocking on the wall. In my limited Norwegian, I informed her that it was morning.

This memory surfaced when I saw the article regarding Light Therapy in a recent bulletin from Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, “Light Therapy May Promote Daytime Alertness and Better Sleep in Parkinson's.”

In a new study, when people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) who experienced daytime excessive sleepiness were exposed to bright light twice a day, using light boxes, they were more alert in the daytime and slept better at night.

Daytime sleepiness is a common symptom of PD as well as a side effect of its medications.

For two weeks, 16 of the participants were exposed to bright light (10,000 lux) from a conventional light box twice daily, in the morning and late afternoon. The other participants, serving as a control group, were exposed to dim-red light (less than 300 lux) as a placebo.

Some of the Results

Study participants exposed to bright light had significantly less daytime sleepiness than before participating in the study.

All participants increased their physical activity during the study, those receiving therapy with bright light more than those getting placebo.

PD movement symptoms improved in all study participants.

What Does It Mean

The study is important because it provides insight into how PD affects the body’s internal clock. The brain changes that take place with PD, combined with less exposure to sunlight when people remain indoors, can throw off circadian rhythms. By timing light therapy, it may be possible to re-set them and correct the sleep-wake cycle as well other body cycles related to movement and well-being.

This is good news for caregivers who have asked me about their PD peeps sleeping excessively during the day and lying awake at night. My Burt had this same troublesome rhythm.

Check the Internet under “Light Boxes for Sale.”

Reminder: No PD Support Group meeting in August.

Stay cool (especially the PD peep), and Keep Looking Up.

This research funded by the Parkinson’s Foundation appears in the February 20 online edition of JAMA Neurology.

Contact Ann Miner at eannminer@yahoo.com