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Sleep Disorder is Risk Factor for Parkinson’s

A new European study suggests individuals suffering from REM sleep behavior disorders have an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease (PD).

REM sleep behavior disorders are characterized by dream nightmares in which a person is attacked and pursued leading an individual to scream, cry, punch and kick while sleeping.

The current study is the third work on the topic within the last five years to be published by Lancet Neurology.

The first work showed in 2006 that 45 percent of patients who suffer this sleep disorder develop Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases caused by a lack of dopamine in the brain.

The second article discovered that neuroimaging tests that measure dopamine in the brain, such as the brain SPECT scan (single-photon emission computed tomography), are useful to identify patients with REM sleep disorders with increased risk of developing a neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.

In the current study, researchers used SPECT to conclude that the levels of dopamine in the brain are quickly lowering over the years in patients with REM sleep behavior disorder.

SPECT is the first neuroimaging technique to detect the disease progression at an early stage. The study involved comparing for three years the evolution of brain SPECT in 20 patients with REM disorder and 20 healthy controls.

The neuroimaging technique measures the presence of dopamine in the substantia nigra, a part of the brain associated with learning and harmony of body movements. In Parkinson’s disease, a deficiency of dopamine in the substantia nigra causes tremor, stiffness and movement slowness in patients.

Results showed that after three years of monitoring the production of dopamine in the control group was reduced by 8 percent due to age, while the group of REM sleep disorder patients experienced a reduction of 20 percent.

Once the three-year follow-up ended, three of 20 patients in the REM sleep disorder group had developed Parkinson’s disease and their dopamine reduction was around 30 percent.

Researchers conclude that more efforts are needed to create neuroprotective drugs that prevent the progression from REM sleep behavior disorders to Parkinson’s disease.

Authors of the study suggest that, to be considered effective, a neuroprotective drug should significantly prevent the dopamine concentration from dropping in these patients.

Source: IDIBAPS – Institut d’Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer

Sleep Disorder is Risk Factor for Parkinson’s

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Sleep Disorder is Risk Factor for Parkinson’s. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 1 Aug 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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