The Connection Between REM Sleep Disorder and Alzheimer’s

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerApril 28, 2014

Does your loved one act out dreams in their sleep? Besides being a dangerous sleep syndrome, REM Sleep Disorder may be a predictor of Alzheimer’s disease. A new study out of the University of Toronto shows that as many as 80-90% of seniors who have REM Sleep Disorder eventually develop brain disease.

What is REM Sleep Disorder?

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep Disorder is a type of behavioral disease that occurs during the REM sleep cycle. People who have REM Sleep Disorder lose paralysis during their sleep, which enables them to physically act out their dreams. The behaviors can be violent and can include grabbing, jumping out of bed, screaming, kicking and punching, and can, in some cases, cause injury to themselves or their partner. However, REM Sleep Disorder is usually treatable with medication.

Alzheimer’s and REM Sleep Disorder

A new study from the University of Toronto claims that REM Sleep Disorder is not only inconvenient and possibly violent, but it is also the best current predictor of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Researchers evaluated over 700 older adults who did not have any known form of dementia. Through their research, they found that those seniors who had sleep fragmentation (i.e. REM Sleep Disorder) were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and have a faster rate of cognitive decline than those who had healthy sleep habits.

Associate Professor and lead author on the study Dr. John Peever said,

“Rapid-eye-movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is not just a precursor but also a critical warning sign of neurodegeneration that can lead to brain disease. In fact, as many as 80%-90% of people with RBD will develop a brain disease.”

Researchers think that cognitive decline may affect the areas of the brain that control sleep first which would explain the strong link between sleep disorders and Alzheimer’s disease. Peever hopes that clinicians will recognize REM Sleep Disorder as an indication of a cognitive issue so that diagnosis can occur earlier.

The Importance of Sleep in Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease

The strong link between unhealthy sleep habits and Alzheimer’s is no secret. A study last year showed that sleep is just as important as diet and exercise when it comes to leading a healthy life. The study showed that when a person is asleep, their body filters out Alzheimer’s causing beta-amyloid proteins, and that lack of sleep can actually lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

Another recent study showed that sleep disruption can be an early symptom of Alzheimer’s. The study proved that the internal clock on Alzheimer’s patients still functions properly but that there is something else going on in the brain to make patients sleep and wake randomly.

Does your loved one struggle with sleep fragmentation or REM Sleep Disorder? How do you manage their sleep schedule? Share your story with us in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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