The way we sleep can provide subtle hints about our health. Struggling to breathe while you sleep could be sleep apnoea, caused by smoking, or excess weight.
But there’s another, under-the-radar sleep condition that can predict the likeliness of you developing more serious diseases that affect the brain, such as dementia and Parkinson’s.
What is RBD?
RBD, or REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder, is a sleep problem where you physically act out part of your dreams while you sleep.
A bit like sleepwalking, movements like thrashing your arms around or kicking your legs are symptoms of RBD, which is said to affect around 1% of the population.
There are different types of RBD. The first is probably the most dangerous – isolated, or idiopathic, RBD.
This is when the disorder happens out of nowhere, and experts believe that it most often leads to degenerative diseases such as the ones we mentioned above.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “about 97% of people who have isolated (idiopathic) RBD will have Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia or multiple system atrophy within 14 years of diagnosis.”
Symptomatic or secondary RBD happens due to an underlying cause, such as Type 1 narcolepsy.
And drug-induced RBD is when the issue affects people taking some kinds of anti-depressants.
What is it caused by?
The causes of RBD aren’t fully understood by experts, but the risk of developing the troubling sleep issue is said to be increased by abnormal dopamine levels, erectile dysfunction, loss of sense of smell and irregular motor symptoms, amongst other issues.
It’s mostly seen in older adults, and for those who are younger, it’s usually caused by anti-depressant use.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment, and it usually depends on how severe your RBD is. But some studies have shown that melatonin, clonazepam and pramipexole can reduce symptoms in some cases.
If you think you might be having issues with your sleep, speak to your doctor who can give you professional advice and potentially prescribe medications to help.