In an earlier post I blogged about the nature of dreams including phases of sleep and why we dream. In the blog I had mentioned a sleep disorder known as REM sleep behavior disorder (or RBD). It’s a mysterious sleep disturbance where the normal atonia (muscle paralysis) during sleep malfunctions, and the dreamer is left to act out their dreams. Those with this disorder (predominantly male) tend to have dreams that are increasingly violent and involve fighting off an attacker. In their sleep, these people act out every punch, kick, twist and scream with their sleeping bodies, often times injuring the person sharing the bed with them.

This disorder was thought to be an isolated condition, but doctors conducting follow-up studies on diagnosed patients are starting to rethink that. Anywhere from 80 to 100 percent of these RBD patients later develop neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.

Doctors studying their patients conclude that there is a minimum of a 15 year difference between the onset of RBD and the onset of a neurological disorder. In some patients, the time between onsets was as much as 50 years. However long it is, this sleep disorder seems to prelude the disease by a significant amount of time. Doctors are hoping that this will allow the patient to be treated for a disease before the disease actually manifests. Perhaps one day if there is a neuroprotective treatment available, it can be used to treat these patients before the severe deterioration of their brain.