Recent research has got people all excited about a possible link between people who thrash about in bed while they’re dreaming and the later development of dementia, in particular, Parkinson’s Disease. Here’s a video clip of me talking about this on The Morning Show, Channel 7, this morning.
So let’s have a look at this:
Normally, we don’t thrash about in bed while we’re dreaming. We might toss and turn between dreams, and we might twitch during a dream, but that’s about it.
We’re protected from acting out our dreams by a mechanism called ‘sleep paralysis’. Your dreaming brain flicks a switch to inhibit your skeletal motor muscles from moving. You’re kept safely tucked up in bed, no matter what you’re up to in your dreams.
Some people experience a REM sleep behaviour disorder where sleep paralysis doesn’t kick in. When they dream, their muscles move accordingly. They act out the more dramatic parts of their dreams. They may kick, punch, jump, or even get out of bed. Some people experience this sleep disorder every night; others occasionally, maybe once every couple of weeks, and the episodes last about 2-10 minutes. If they wake up and describe their dream, it generally fits the movements they’ve been making.
(This is different from sleep walking and from restless legs syndrome, both of which occur in non-dreaming phases of sleep.)
It’s commonly believed that the dreams people act out are always bad or violent, but it’s more likely that all dreams are acted out but because the bad or violent ones involve more activity (punching, running away), they are more noticeable.
The dreamer, or his (people with this disorder tend to be older men) bed partner may be hurt – or killed – during one of these episodes. Controversy has surrounded cases where people have murdered their bed partners and claimed innocence due to suffering this disorder.
Back to the recent research:
Mayo Clinic researchers found a possible link between this sleep disorder and the later onset of dementia, particularly Parkinson’s Disease. They analyzed the medical records of 27 people who suffered from this sleep disorder and who all developed dementia up to 50 years later, and concluded that there may be a link.
Of course, this is NOT to say that if you have the sleep disorder you’ll develop dementia within 50 years. Plenty of people suffer this disorder and remain mentally fit and healthy into old age. However, this research may provide a clue to help neurologists understand dementia.
REM sleep behaviour disorder is treatable with drugs, so see your doctor to ensure a good and safe night’s sleep, for yourself and your bed partner.
Watch the video of me talking about this on The Morning Show, Channel 7, this morning.