Dreams and PD: Can nightmares predict Parkinson’s?


Alpha-synuclein clumps injected into the guts of mice can spread to the brain via the vagus—and in humans, at least one epidemiological study has shown that cutting the vagus, a procedure sometimes used to treat chronic stomach ulcers, decreases the risk for Parkinson’s later in life. One of the most common RBD-linked ailments is Parkinson’s disease, characterized mainly by progressive loss of motor control. Another is Lewy body have a peek here dementia, in which small clusters of α-synuclein called Lewy bodies build up in the brain, disrupting movement and cognition. A third type of synucleinopathy, multiple system atrophy, interferes with both movement and involuntary functions such as digestion. RBD is one of the strongest harbingers of future synucleinopathy, more predictive than other early markers such as chronic constipation and a diminished sense of smell.


By lesioning parts of the brain stem in cats, Jouvet inhibited the muscle paralysis that occurs in many species during REM sleep. Cats that had gone through the procedure acted normally when awake, but when asleep they became unusually active, exhibiting intermittent bursts of activity such as prowling, swatting, biting, playing and grooming. Jouvet observed that the cats’ sleeping actions often were unlike their waking habits. Felines that were “always very friendly when awake,” he wrote, behaved aggressively during REM sleep.

Some epidemiological studies suggest that enacted dreaming predicts a more than 80 percent chance of developing a neurodegenerative disease within the patient’s lifetime. It may also be the first sign of neurodegenerative disease, which learn more here on average shows up within 10 to 15 years after onset of the dream disorder. Nine in 10 people living with Parkinson’s disease experience sleep disturbances, ranging from vivid dreams and nightmares to insomnia and daytime napping.

Parkinson’s disease causes changes to structures in the brain that affect dreaming and the regulation of negative emotions. Research from 2019 found that people who experience RBD have a high likelihood of developing a neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinson’s or dementia. This means that incorporating screening questions about someone’s dream experiences could help doctors predict if a person is at higher risk of more visit the website severe Parkinson’s symptoms in the near future. That changes in dream content could reliably predict oncoming physical illness is somewhat controversial, though research supporting the role of somatic and sensory influences on dream content is well supported (discussed in a previous post here). Participants with frequent bad dreams during this period were more than three times as likely to go on to develop Parkinson’s.

Thus, it is helpful to be aware of the memory sources of dreams, and take notice of any unexpected memories. So watch out for lengthy and distressful dreams that seem to drag on and disrupt sleep all through the night. The available treatments for Parkinson’s and other synucleinopathies can currently only manage symptoms. “The worst news I have to give as a sleep doctor is to tell someone that they have RBD,” Ju says.

In sum, changes in the body at a subconscious level can correspond with sudden shifts in dream content. In particular, dreams of unexpected memories, repeated physical injury, or lengthy dreams with bizarre or violent imagery could indicate impending illness. Paying attention to these unusual dream experiences could enable you to prepare the first defense against an oncoming illness. One mystery of RBD is whether people are acting out their dreams or whether their movements are modifying their dream narratives, says Birgit Högl, a professor of neurology and sleep medicine at the Medical University of Innsbruck in Austria. As for the question that originally intrigued Arnulf—why the impaired movement characteristic of Parkinson’s seems to disappear during sleep in some patients—work by other groups has helped suggest an answer.

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