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Kicking, Punching In Sleep Predicts Future Brain Disease

Update Date: Apr 22, 2014 04:41 PM EDT

Acting out dreams is currently the best predictor of common brain diseases.

Researchers at the University of Toronto found that a sleep disorder that causes sufferers to act out their dreams significantly increases the risk of diseases like Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia.

"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," associate professor and lead researcher Dr. John Peever said in a news release.

"In fact, as many as 80 to 90 per cent of people with RBD will develop a brain disease," he added.

The sleep disorder causes disturbances during the rapid-eye-movement (REM) stage of sleep and causes people to act out their dreams. This can often result in sufferers causing injury to themselves or others sleeping in the same bed as them. Researchers explain that muscles are temporarily paralyzed during sleep in healthy brains.

"It's important for clinicians to recognize RBD as a potential indication of brain disease in order to diagnose patients at an earlier stage," says Peever. "This is important because drugs that reduce neurodegeneration could be used in RBD patients to prevent (or protect) them from developing more severe degenerative disorders."

The latest study supports the theory that neurodegeneration starts by attacking brain regions that control sleep before getting to those that lead to brain diseases like Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers hope the latest findings will help lead to earlier and more effective treatment of brain diseases.

The findings were published in print and online in the latest issue of Trends in Neuroscience.

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