Abnormal Behavior During Sleep Could Be Early Indicator Of Future Brain Disease

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Abnormal Behavior During Sleep Could Be Early Indicator Of Future Brain Disease
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Rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is a health issue that involves abnormal behavior during sleep. The paralysis that normally occurs during sleep is incomplete or absent in a person with RBD, allowing the individual to act out his dreams. The dreamer often kicks, screams, punches, grabs, or even jumps out of bed during episodes of RBD. According to Canadian academics, there is a strange and surprising connection between RBD and neurological diseases later in life such as Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. [1]

The study highlights the role of a specific group of cells in the brain system in controlling dreaming sleep, which is also called rapid eye movement sleep. RBD occurs when those cells are damaged, making a person act out violent dreams. [2] The study’s principal investigator, Professor John Peever of the University of Toronto, believes that the findings could help drug companies to develop therapies based on a specific group of cells. These therapies will be designed to slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases. Peever presented the study at the 2017 Canadian Neuroscience Meeting in Montreal, Quebec. His team is yet to publish their results in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Peever and colleagues provided data on how physically violent dreaming could act as an early warning sign decades before a diagnosis of Parkinson’s and dementia. [3] Though it remains unclear how definitive this link is, the results are supported by previous research on the association between people with violent and physical dreams and the probability of eventually developing a neurodegenerative disorder.

Back in 2000, the journal American Family Physician published research that posited the connection between RBD and neurodegenerative neurologic disorders such as Parkinson’s, primary dementia, and epilepsy. The study discovered brain stem lesions in computed tomography brain scans of affected patients. [4]

A 2010 study that first appeared in the journal Neurology identified RBD as a risk factor for developing neurological diseases later in life. Conducted by researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, the study noted that violent dreams could portend brain disorders by almost fifty years. [5]

The risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders in patients with idiopathic REM sleep behavior disorder was also confirmed by a 2009 study. The researchers found that the majority of the patients developed Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. [6]

There are 50,000 Americans diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease every year, according to the National Institutes of Health. Around 500,000 people live with the disease while another one million U.S. adults are affected by Lewy body dementia. [7] Dr. Peever hopes that the results of their study could be used by other researchers for the creation of neuroprotective therapies that are aimed at the prevention of such neurodegenerative disorders.


[1] Canadian Association for Neuroscience. Science Daily. May 29, 2017. Connecting the dots between dreams and brain disease: REM sleep disorders could be early warning sign for neurological disease later in life. https://sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170529133723.htm

[2] James J. Gugger and Mary L. Wagner. November 1, 2007. Annals of Pharmacotherapy. Neurology: Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Behavior Disorder. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1345/aph.1H587

[3] Jeanna Bryner. Live Science. August 4, 2010. Violent Dreams May Presage Brain Disorders Decades Later. https://www.livescience.com/8412-violent-dreams-presage-brain-disorders-decades.html

[4] Pagel JF. April 2000. American Family Physician. Nightmares and Disorders of Dreaming. https://aafp.org/afp/2000/0401/p2037.html

[5] Bradley F. Boeve. January 2010. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. REM Sleep Behavior Disorder: Updated Review of the Core Features, the RBD-Neurodegenerative Disease Association, Evolving Concepts, Controversies, and Future Directions. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2902006/

[6] Posthuma RB et al. April 14, 2009. Neurology. Quantifying the risk of neurodegenerative disease in idiopathic REM sleep behavior disorder. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2828948/

[7] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Parkinsons’ Disease. https://report.nih.gov/NIHfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=109

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