A new study from McGill University in Canada is providing some clues between the development of dementia and a sleep disorder known as rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD).

With RBD, the paralysis that normally occurs with REM sleep is incomplete or absent. This causes people to not get the deep restful sleep that they need. 

RBD is usually seen in middle-aged to elderly people, most often in men. The research showed that 63% of people who experienced RBD developed dementia with Lewy bodies or Parkinson’s later in life. In some cases the RBD was detected 50 years before the actual onset of the neurodegenerative condition. More research is needed, but it’s possible that detecting RBD may help people get treatment at an earlier age and perhaps prevent/minimize dementia that could occur later in life.

Statistics show that one in three people over 65 will die with dementia. Twenty percent of us don’t get over six hours of sleep a night, and heart disease, diabetes and obesity have all been linked with chronic sleep loss. A healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise have already been shown to reduce the risk of developing dementia by up to 60 percent, so perhaps that percentage can be increased by getting a good night’s sleep. This research underscores the importance of visiting your health care provider if you have problems sleeping.

Addition, 2019: A new ten year study from McGill University follows up on this original study and declares that 70% of patients with idiopathic REM sleep behavior disorder will develop a neurodegenerative disease within ten years.