People have bad dreams all the time, but could there be underlying neurological factors influencing their manifestation? Going to sleep during a stressful period in life, following a traumatic incident, or with fear of a particular event in the future can certainly bring about troubling dreams, but the rabbit hole could go a lot deeper than that.
A remarkable finding from a study conducted at the Univ. of Birmingham shows that men with frequent bad dreams were 100% more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than those who didn’t have bad dreams.
“Although it can be really beneficial to diagnose Parkinson’s disease early, there are very few risk indicators and many of these require expensive hospital tests or are very common and non-specific, such as diabetes,” explained lead author Abidemi Otaiku, at the university’s Center for Human Brain Health.
The study was conducted on 3,830 men of middle age, all of whom completed a survey on nightmares from the gold standard of self-reported sleep quality, the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index.
Over a 7.3 year average follow-up time, 91 cases of Parkinson’s developed, with the men reporting an abnormally-high frequency of nightmares experiencing a 2-fold increased risk of developing Parkinson’s over the entire follow-up, and as much as a 6-fold increased risk during the first 4 years.
Interestingly, the risk became statistically insignificant beyond a five-year horizon, suggesting nightmares could be used as an early warning.
“While we need to carry out further research in this area, identifying the significance of bad dreams and nightmares could indicate that individuals who experience changes to their dreams in older age – without any obvious trigger – should seek medical advice,” said Otaiku in a statement.
Parkinson’s disease arises from the currently-unexplainable death of basil ganglia cells which, among other functions, produce the critical hormone dopamine. Without sufficient dopamine circulating in the brain, motor-function impairment follows, with shaking, tremors, and uncontrolled movements. It may also cause mental and behavioral changes, sleep problems, depression, memory difficulties, and fatigue.