Dreams may have various links to Parkinson’s disease. Researchers have found that people with Parkinson’s may have more frequent aggressive dreams than the larger population.

People with Parkinson’s may experience more frequent nightmares or emotional dreams and can experience REM sleep behavior disorder, which causes people to act out their dreams.

This article looks at the connection between dreams and Parkinson’s disease, what the latest research says, and dreams as a symptom of the disease. It also answers some frequently asked questions.

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Researchers have found that Parkinson’s disease can affect how a person dreams. Parkinson’s causes structural changes in the brain, which can affect how a person sleeps and dreams.

People with the disease often frequently experience nightmares and upsetting dreams. They may also experience REM behavior disorder (RBD), in which they physically act out their dreams.

Researchers have also found that the content of a person’s dreams could help predict further motor and cognitive decline in people with Parkinson’s disease.

In particular, frequent aggressive dreams may predict further neurodegeneration in a person with Parkinson’s, independently of other factors.

According to a 2021 study, frequent aggressive dreams could be a predictor of deterioration in movement and mental abilities in people who already have Parkinson’s.

This means that incorporating screening questions about someone’s dream experiences could help doctors predict if a person is at higher risk of more severe Parkinson’s symptoms in the near future.

A 2022 study found that people who had frequent distressing dreams had a significantly higher likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease within 5 years.

The study also cited 2014 research, which found that people with Parkinson’s disease were around four times more likely than people in the larger population to experience nightmares frequently enough to constitute a clinical disorder.

Frequent vivid, aggressive, and distressing dreams may also indicate that a person with Parkinson’s disease may go on to experience rapid and severe disease progression.

Research from 2019 found that people who experience RBD have a high likelihood of developing a neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinson’s or dementia.

The study found that 6.3% of people with RBD develop a neurodegenerative condition within a year of diagnosis, and 73.5% within 12 years.

The content of a person’s dreams, as well as the presence of RBD, may be significant predictors of Parkinson’s disease.

As well as being potential early warning signs of Parkinson’s disease, sleep problems and vivid, emotional, or distressing dreams are common symptoms of the disease.

However, scientists do not know exactly how Parkinson’s disease affects a person’s dream experiences.

They believe the disease could impact dreaming in various ways. These include:

  • Structural changes in the brain: Parkinson’s disease could cause structural changes in areas of the brain involved in dreaming. This could impact dream content. A 2018 study linked a reduction of white matter in the cingulate area of the brain and other structural changes with a higher frequency of distressing dreams in people with Parkinson’s disease.
  • Dysregulation of negative emotions: Parkinson’s can also cause structural changes in areas of the brain that regulate negative emotions. This could lead to dysregulation and an increase in aggression and negative emotions in both awake and dreaming states.
  • Medication: Some medications that treat Parkinson’s disease, such as dopamine agonists like levodopa (Inbrija) and pramipexole (Mirapex), can cause more frequent and severe nightmares.
  • RBD: RBD prevents the temporary paralysis that usually accompanies the REM phase of sleep when dreaming occurs. A person with RBD may physically act out their dreams, which can result in injury to themselves or others. Scientists link RBD with a high likelihood of neurodegenerative conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia.
Learn more

Learn more about nightmares and Parkinson’s:

Parkinson’s disease causes changes to structures in the brain that affect dreaming and the regulation of negative emotions.

These changes, as well as other factors such as certain Parkinson’s medications, may lead to increased nightmares and distressing and aggressive dreams.

Frequent distressing, aggressive, and emotional dreams may help predict the development or progression of Parkinson’s disease.

The presence of REM behavior disorder (RBD) may also indicate a higher likelihood of the disease.

Including screening questions about a person’s dream experiences in their methods of diagnosis may help doctors predict Parkinson’s disease, or better understand the progression of the disease.