Changes in Sleep Patterns Can Predict Degenerative Disease

Studies have shown that changes in sleep or sleep patterns can help predict the onset of some degenerative diseases.
Changes in Sleep Patterns Can Predict Degenerative Disease

Last update: 26 May, 2022

Studies show that changes in sleep or sleep patterns can predict degenerative disease, especially during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase.

In today’s article, we want to share what your sleep patterns can tell you about your health. 

What are altered sleep patterns?

A man with insomnia

Sleep disorders and sleep-related problems don’t just affect people who have neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, dementia or Alzheimer’s.

They modify the habitual development of the dream cycle and can interfere in a person’s mental, emotional, or physical function.

The main sleep disorders are:

  • Sleep apnea (pause in breathing)
  • Wetting the bed (especially children)
  • Insomnia (poor, insufficient, or restless sleep)
  • Restless leg syndrome (limbs move continuously during the night)
  • Sleep paralysis (wake up in the REM phase, when the brain is active but not the body, except the eyes)
  • Night terrors (abrupt and terrified awakening)
  • Sleepwalking (walking or doing other activities while you are asleep)
  • Narcolepsy (falling asleep at any time or place, without warning)

There are also other less common sleep disorders, such as:

  • Idiopathic hypersomnia (alteration of the normal course of rest and the need to sleep 4 additional hours during the day)
  • Recurrent hypersomnia (sleeping for up to 20 hours for days)
  • Idiopathic insomnia (neurological disorder of the wake/sleep cycle that poses problems when waking up or regulating sleep)

See also:

8 Ways to Fight Sleep Disorders

The REM phase and neurodegenerative diseases

A man sleeping deeply

According to a study by the Neurology Service of the Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, your behavior during the REM phase can explain or alert you about certain diseases, such as Parkinson’s or senile dementia.

Patients who suffer from nightmares about being attacked or mistreated, and who kick or cry out during the REM phase, could suffer from neurodegenerative diseases in the future because of a lack of dopamine in their brains.

Patients can visit a sleep clinic to undergo certain diagnostic tests that analyze the type of disorder that is affecting them. Then, they can identify what it could mean for their future.

Such an analysis is performed on an outpatient basis in the hospital or clinic. Doctors compare behavior during the REM phase with the probability of developing a disease.

Sleep disorders could offer a sign for the prevention of narcolepsy, a stroke or drowsiness. They can also detect respiratory problems like sleep apnea and snoring.

Sleep patterns and neurological diseases

Woman struggling with her sleep patterns

In addition to assisting patients with sleep-related respiratory disorders, the hospital in Spain also offers sleep medications and explores the relationships between epilepsy and sleep disorders.

According to neurologist Maria Gudin, it’s difficult to differentiate an epileptic episode with a problem in a dream.

Her colleague Mercedes Munoz argues that Parkinson’s disease (the second most frequent neurodegenerative disease) is more common in people who suffer from insomnia, as well as anxiety and depression.

  • Hypersomnia occurs in 80% of patients with Parkinson’s disease.
  • Sleep behavior disorders that occur during the REM phase affect 40%.
  • Restless legs syndrome affects 20%.

This means that several sleep patterns are common among patients with neurodegenerative diseases, and this can have an impact on their quality of life.

Understanding sleep habits

Their sleep habits can be an initial manifestation of the disease, making it important to approach them from a therapeutic point of view.

Dr. Estefania Segura compared the primary sleep disorders with the appearance of mental illnesses: schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

They are all related to sleeping problems. The same is true of generalized anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

One article claims that an increase in life expectancy is associated with a greater number of people with dementia in general, and Alzheimer’s disease in particular.

Aging, Alzheimer’s, and sleep disorders are strongly associated. When coupled with a genetic predisposition and external factors, they can seriously impact a patient’s quality of life.

For many patients, disruptions in sleep leads to hospitalization. In these cases, the changes in their sleep patterns are much more severe than for those who do not have any associated disease.

The characteristics of sleep disorders for those who have Alzheimer’s are:

  • Increased movements
  • Reductions in slow-wave sleep and REM
  • Drowsiness during the day

Damage to the neurons that keep them asleep is the main cause of these sleep problems.

The hypothalamus and your internal clock are responsible for sleeping and waking, but for these people they are not in sync.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Iranzo, A., Molinuevo, J. L., Santamaría, J., Serradell, M., Martí, M. J., Valldeoriola, F., & Tolosa, E. (2006). Rapid-eye-movement sleep behaviour disorder as an early marker for a neurodegenerative disorder: a descriptive study. Lancet Neurology.
  • Iranzo, A., Tolosa, E., Gelpi, E., Molinuevo, J. L., Valldeoriola, F., Serradell, M., … Santamaria, J. (2013). Neurodegenerative disease status and post-mortem pathology in idiopathic rapid-eye-movement sleep behaviour disorder: An observational cohort study. The Lancet Neurology.
  • Terzaghi, M., Sinforiani, E., Zucchella, C., Zambrelli, E., Pasotti, C., Rustioni, V., & Manni, R. (2008). Cognitive performance in REM sleep behaviour disorder: a possible early marker of neurodegenerative disease? Sleep Medicine.
  • A., I., J.L., M., J., S., M., S., M.J., M., F., V., & E., T. (2006). Rapid-eye-movement sleep behaviour disorder as an early marker for a neurodegenerative disorder: a descriptive study. Lancet Neurology.
  • Kempfner, J., Sorensen, G., Zoetmulder, M., Jennum, P., & Sorensen, H. B. D. (2010). REM Behaviour Disorder detection associated with neurodegenerative diseases. In 2010 Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, EMBC’10.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.