According to the latest studies, people with frequent nightmares are up to four times more likely to develop dementia. If the research findings are confirmed, they could lead to new methods of detecting this disease and early medical intervention that would slow the rate of mental decline.
Effect of Frequent Nightmares on Human Health
Most people have bad dreams from time to time, but about five percent experience nightmares disturbing enough to wake them up at least once a week. Potential triggers are stress, anxiety, and lack of sleep. However, previous research on patients with Parkinson’s disease has shown that nightmares are also associated with a faster decline in cognitive function.
The team of doctor Abidemi Otaku from the University of Birmingham investigated whether this increased risk also occurs in healthy people. The researchers reviewed three earlier studies that included sleep quality. In addition, studies have tracked and evaluated brain health and overall health for several years. More than six hundred middle-aged people, i.e., between 35 and 64 years old, and 2,600 people over 79 participated in the research.
Dementia May Be Associated with Frightening Dreams
The research found that midlife people who had nightmares at least once a week were four times more likely to experience cognitive decline over the next ten years. In addition, older participants who had frequent nightmares were twice as likely to be diagnosed with dementia in subsequent years.
According to the authors, one possible explanation is that people with frequent nightmares have poor quality sleep, which could lead to the accumulation of proteins associated with dementia. Another possibility is the existence of some genetic factor that underlies both phenomena.
However, Otaiku emphasized that only a fraction of adults who regularly have unpleasant dreams are more likely to develop dementia. But if his theory is confirmed, nightmares could serve as an indicator of this disease. Its onset could then be slowed down or even prevented altogether.
Source: thelancet.com/journals/eclinm/article/PIIS2589-5370(22)00370-4/fulltext, photo credit: pixabay