Acting Out Dreams Can Lead to a Brain Disease Diagnosis

Addie Reiter, Editor in Chief

Acting out your dreams while sleeping could lead to getting a diagnosis for certain brain diseases you could develop in the future.

Rapid eye movement (REM) Sleep Behavior Disorder is a sleep disorder where someone will physically act out their – often unpleasant – dreams. This occurs during the REM sleep phase or the stage where we dream.

During REM sleep, most of our muscles are temporarily paralyzed to ensure we dream safely. For people with REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, however, paralysis doesn’t occur. This leads to them speaking, screaming, or moving while they’re sleeping.

The dreams normally associated with REM Sleep Behavior Disorder are nightmares. They are often action packed, and might consist of the individual being attacked, fighting, or running from something. This is not only capable of endangering the person experiencing these dreams, but it can also be harmful to people or pets they are sharing the bed with.

According to, “Up to 90 percent of spouses of those with REM sleep disorder report having sleep issues and over 60 percent have experienced a physical injury.”

Even though we have a lot of information about this sleeping disorder, it does not present often in people.

According to, “[REM Sleep Behavior Disorder] is relatively rare, affecting between 0.5 to 1 percent of adults. REM sleep behavior disorder is more common in men and adults over age 50. Although rare, this disorder can also occur in children in higher-risk groups.”

Majority of people diagnosed with this disorder go on to develop other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia, Alzheimers, or multiple system atrophy. According to, “Over 70% [of patients] will develop parkinsonism or dementia within 12 years of their diagnosis.”

“The odds of people with REM sleep behavior disorder developing a neurodegenerative disease are pretty alarming, and currently there are no treatments to decrease that risk,” said Yo-El Ju, a Washington University neurologist and co-principal investigator.

Realizing that REM sleep behavior disorder is associated with these conditions, however, is leading to something positive.

Many clinics and colleges such as Harvard Medical School, Stanford Medicine, and Mayo Clinic are doing trial runs to not only help patients diagnosed with REM Sleeping Disorder, but to also discover the reason neurodegenerative diseases are connected to it.

“Information that predicts the timing and type of synucleinopathy [neurodegenerative] disorder is almost certainly hidden in one or more of the biomarkers that will be assessed as part of this study,” said Bradley Boeve, MD, a Mayo Clinic neurologist and the grant’s co-principal investigator. “If we can identify biomarkers that predict the future, we can then focus on these biomarkers for upcoming clinical trials designed to delay the onset of or prevent dementia or parkinsonism.”

Once they find a reliable way to predict these conditions such as Parkinson’s or dementia, they will set up trials to find a way to elongate the time someone has before developing a neurodegenerative disease or completely prevent the disease.

When it comes to the patients getting a REM Sleep disorder diagnosis there is an ongoing argument whether doctors should disclose their risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease. 

According to The National Library of Medicine, “One retrospective study of records in a sleep clinic showed that only 47% of patients had documentation of having received prognostic counseling, though such counseling may have been provided but not documented.”

There are multiple reasons that professionals don’t believe patients should know this risk. They are mainly worried that explaining the risks of developing these dementia disorders will lead to self diagnosis before symptoms have a chance to properly develop. They are also concerned with the fact that there is no delaying treatment for these diseases so patients would be told the risk, but wouldn’t be able to get treated for the problem.

Though there is no treatment to help prevent the neurodegenerative diseases, there are some ways to assist those with the sleeping disorder. They can get prescribed medication such as melatonin or clonazepam which have both been proven to help. Patients have also been advised to remove sharp objects, install padding, and move the mattress to the floor in their bedrooms. 

If you are experiencing symptoms that resemble this disorder, be sure to speak to your doctor about it. It may have a bigger long-term impact than you initially think.