Acting Out Dreams While Asleep Could Be Warning Sign of Brain Disorder

Research that casts a whole new light on Lady Macbeth’s hand washing.

*Please see the note for important information about this research.

Researchers at the University of Toronto say a sleep disorder that causes people to act out their dreams is the best current predictor of brain diseases like Parkinson’s and some other forms of dementia.

“Rapid-eye-movement sleep behaviour disorder (RBD) is not just a precursor but also a critical warning sign of neurodegeneration that can lead to brain disease,” says associate professor and lead author John Peever.

“In fact, as many as 80 to 90 per cent of people with RBD will develop a brain disease.”

As the name suggests, the disturbance occurs during the rapid-eye-movement (REM) stage of sleep and causes people to act out their dreams, often resulting in injury to themselves and/or bed partner. In healthy brains, muscles are temporarily paralyzed during sleep to prevent this from happening.

The image is the painting Sleeping Girl.
The disturbance occurs during the rapid-eye-movement (REM) stage of sleep and causes people to act out their dreams, often resulting in injury to themselves and/or bed partner. This image is for illustrative purposes only and is not connected to the research. Credit Nikolai Kuznetsov.

“It’s important for clinicians to recognize RBD as a potential indication of brain disease in order to diagnose patients at an earlier stage,” says Peever. “This is important because drugs that reduce neurodegeneration could be used in RBD patients to prevent (or protect) them from developing more severe degenerative disorders.”

His research examines the idea that neurodegeneration might first affect areas of the brain that control sleep before attacking brain areas that cause more common brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Peever says he hopes the results of his study lead to earlier and more effective treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

[divider]Notes about this neurology and sleep research[/divider]

The research is available in print and online in the latest issue of Trends in Neuroscience.

Contact: Michael Kennedy – University of Toronto
Source: University of Toronto press release
Image Source: The image is credited to Nikolai Kuznetsov (circa 1893) and is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “Breakdown in REM sleep circuitry underlies REM sleep behavior disorder” by John Peever, Pierre-Hervé Luppi, and Jacques Montplaisir in Trends in Neuroscience. Published online March 24 2014 2014 doi:10.1016/j.tins.2014.02.009 *Publication stage: In Press Corrected Proof

Important disclaimer: The abstract page offers this notice: “Note to users: Uncorrected proofs are Articles in Press that have been copy edited and formatted, but have not been finalized yet. They still need to be proof-read and corrected by the author(s) and the text could still change before final publication.

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