REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is a rare sleep condition that affects less than 1% of people. But a new study from the Oregon Health and Sciences University shows that the disease is much more prevalent in veterans.
Typically, the REM phase is when most of our dreaming occurs, and during that time, our muscles are paralyzed so that we don’t act out our dreams. This is called muscle atonia, and it is often missing in people who have RBD, which results in nocturnal movements during REM sleep. As a result, a person can injure themselves or their partners during sleep.
According to the new findings published in the journal SLEEP, military veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are much more likely to suffer from RBD.
Researchers kept 394 veterans for an overnight sleep study at the VA Portland Health Care System to analyze their sleep performance. Muscle activity was closely monitored to diagnose RBD.
Even though the condition affects less than 1% of the general population, the number goes to 9% among veterans. And when we look at individuals with PTSD, the number jumps to 21%.
These results are troubling because RBD is often connected with other neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. Both conditions affect similar brain regions, and many people with RBD develop Parkinson’s disease later on.
And although researchers do not know whether veterans with PTSD will develop Parkinson’s disease, it is essential to find an answer to this question, and possibly slow down neurodegeneration and development of the disease.
The exact mechanism behind the role of PTSD in developing RBD is not known, but scientists suspect it has to do with chronic stress. The concussions the veterans might have been exposed to could accelerate neurodegenerative processes.
The team will continue to keep track of each participant with RBD to look for the early signs of Parkinson’s disease. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this condition, but there are some treatment options that aim to ease symptoms.
That means that when a person is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, it is usually too late to reverse the symptoms, which is why it is vital to look for early signs of neurodegeneration, and RBD seems to fit the description. That could allow doctors to intervene early, slow down the degradation of neurons, and possibly prevent the disease from developing.