MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – SEPTEMBER 18: Nightmares, Freddy Kruger is photographed at the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds on September 18, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia. The Melbourne Show has been running since 1848 and is Victoria’s oldest and longest running annual public entertainment event, attracting an estimated half-million attendees.
(Image: Enzo Tomasiello/Getty Images)
Previously, bad dreams were thought to be caused by a neurological illness, which mostly affected elderly males. According to new studies, it was thought to be an early symptom of Parkinson’s disease.

However, whether the symptom represents a warning or a byproduct of the ailment was hotly discussed.

According to ScienceAlert, persons who had frequent nightmares were twice as likely to acquire Parkinson’s disease. The majority of diagnoses occurred during the first five years of the research. The findings show that the content of dreams can help screen for Parkinson’s disease. Then, early treatments can be used to assist counteract its potential.

The problem is that Parkinson’s disease is rarely recognised early. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, by the time a diagnosis is made, the disease has typically progressed to the point where controlling body movement has become difficult, and the person diagnosed may have already lost between 60 and 80 percent of dopamine-releasing neurons in part of their brain stem. Furthermore, according to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, disturbing dreams make illness progression five times more likely.

“Although early detection of Parkinson’s disease can be extremely beneficial,” neurologist Abidemi Otaiku of the University of Birmingham, UK, explained. “However, there are very few risk indicators, and many of these require expensive hospital tests or are very common and non-specific, such as diabetes.”

Sleep and Parkinson’s Disease
According to Otaiku, determining the importance of unpleasant dreams and nightmares may imply that those who encounter them in their later years without any evident reason “should seek medical advice.”

Following several years of research, it was shown that around a quarter of males have regular disturbing nightmares from the time of diagnosis, with others reporting awful dreams up to ten years before diagnosis.

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Meanwhile, a prior study found that patients are four times more likely than the general population to have frequent nightmares. They are also more likely to develop rapid eye movement sleep disorders, which result in physical reenactment of dreams during the night.

It’s still unclear if these dreams were a result of Parkinson’s or prodromal – small symptoms that occur before larger symptoms manifest.

Distinguishing the Difference
Researchers followed a large group of older men for more than a decade and discovered that patients who reported having frequent distressing dreams were two times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease over a 12-year period, which was associated with a six-fold increase in the risk of developing the neurological disease.

Understanding this situation on a biological level, on the other hand, is difficult without accurate measurement of brain activity during sleep.

Another puzzling finding is that males with Parkinson’s experience more unpleasant dreams than women. Researchers suggest that this is because men suffer nightmares later in life as an early indicator of neurodegeneration, whereas women are more likely to encounter regular nightmares earlier in life.

Nonetheless, specialists believe that as the male brain ages, something is altering in the frontal cortex, a portion of the cerebral cortex that regulates emotion during sleep.

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