Do you fight in your sleep? New study warns thrashing about in bed may be an early warning sign of dementia, Parkinson’s
12/30/2017 // Rhonda Johansson // Views

Thrashing, laughing, or talking in your sleep can indicate a vulnerability to developing Parkinson’s and dementia later on. Researchers from the Aarhus University state that rapid eye movement sleep behavioral disorder (RBD), which occurs when a person begins to “act out” dreams, may be caused by inflammation in the brain where dopamine is made. This condition can lead to rapid nerve cell death that can eventually cause dementia or Parkinson’s disease.

The relationship between the two has not been studied until now. Neurologists have always been aware that neurological disorders are largely caused by a lack of dopamine. Similarly, RBD -- while a relatively new topic of research -- has been known to be prompted by nerve cell death caused by a diminished supply of dopamine. Researchers were curious to see if the two were connected in some way.

In their study, the researchers found that half of the people who were diagnosed with RBD eventually developed Parkinson’s or some other form of neurological disorder within a decade.  

“With this study, we have gained new knowledge about the disease processes in the brain in the early initial stages of the disease development,” explains one of the researchers of the study, Morten Gersel Stokholm. “The idea is for this knowledge to be used to determine which patients with the sleep disorder will later develop Parkinson’s disease.”

To sleep, perchance to dream

The land of Nod is shaped by our perceptions and built on our passions. It is an entirely imaginary place, but one that we visit each night as we dream. Our encounters there should be completely independent from the physical realm but RBD is the tear in that fabric. People who suffer from RBD act out their dreams and physically move limbs in relation to whatever it is they are dreaming. There are cases where people can even engage in violent acts during RBD such as shouting, screaming, hitting, or punching.


We dream when we enter the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep. In typical patients, REM sleep is characterized by temporary muscle paralysis. Brain scans have shown that during this phase, brain activity is similar to when we are awake. The difference, however, is that while our mind is active, our bodies do not move.

Patients with RBD are unable to temporarily paralyze themselves. This allows them to act out the more dramatic and/or violent dreams during REM.

There is no known cure for RBD. Medical doctors typically prescribe high doses of sleep aids or low doses of the anti-anxiety drug clonazepam.

Alleviating symptoms naturally

Consider these alternatives to managing your sleep disorder.

  • Set up a sleep schedule -- Try as much as possible to stick to the same sleep schedule, even on weekends.
  • Avoid stimulants -- Do not drink caffeine or consume nicotine a few hours before you intend to go to bed.
  • Lose weight -- Carrying excess weight can disrupt sleep quality and quantity.
  • Exercise -- Health groups recommend getting at least 20 to 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day. This spends energy which makes it easier for you to fall asleep. Do not exercise sooner than four hours before bedtime though.

Read more sleep-related news at

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