Despite being a fairly common occurrence in many people’s lives, bad dreams and nightmares still remain somewhat of a mystery to neuroscientists and psychologists. It is believed that bad dreams could possibly be an unconscious reflection of trauma or stress experienced during waking life, or perhaps even be an indicator of physiological disorders like sleep apnea. Now, new research by a group of Canadian neuroscientists has found that recurring violent dreams or nightmares might be a mysterious warning sign the brain sends to presage oncoming neurological disorders.
The study examined a number of sleep disorders grouped under the blanket term REM Behavior Disorders (RBDs), which affect the areas of the brain which control rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is the part of the human sleep cycle in which the brain dreams. In the study, it was found that an overwhelming majority of people who suffer from such nightmare-causing sleeping disorders end up developing serious neurological conditions.
The research was presented at the 11th Annual Canadian Neuroscience Meeting. The study found that for some mysterious reason, certain neurological disorders seem to first affect brain cells related to REM sleep. In a press release issued by the Canadian Association for Neuroscience, the study’s author Dr. John Peever from the University of Toronto claims that the correlation between such sleep disturbances and brain diseases is surprisingly high:
We observed that more than 80% of people who suffer from REM sleep disorder eventually develop synucleinopathies, such as Parkinson’s Disease, and Lewy bodies dementia. Our research suggests sleep disorders may be an early warning sign for diseases that may appear some fifteen years later in life.
Understanding the link between the brain’s unconscious warning signs and neurological disorders could one day better enable neuroscientists and other medical professionals to diagnose brain diseases before they turn serious. On a stranger note, if further research does indeed prove a link between dreams and developing diseases, it really makes you wonder about the depths of our subconscious and about the link between our minds and bodies. If these bad dreams are a warning of sorts, what, or who, is sending the warning?