Earlier this month, the International RBD Study Group published its findings that a certain class of sleep disorder is strongly linked to the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease later in life. As the group’s name implies, the disorder is known as RBD – REM sleep behaviour disorder, which causes you act out your dreams to sometimes fatal consequences for your sleep partner. All the people in the study suffered from this disorder, and after a 12 year followup, they were found to have a high chance of developing Parkinson’s or dementia.
It may not sound like it, but this is actually good news. By the time most people are usually diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the neurodegenerative disease has already done irreversible damage to their brain. Researchers have spent years looking for a reliable early warning sign, so that treatments can become prevention. They might have just found it in RBD.
So what is RBD? It’s the active cousin of the kind of paralysed night frights many of us have from time to time – while harmless, these are truly disturbing, and they may have been the culprits for many claims of supernatural or extraterrestrial abduction and seduction. I used to suffer from these – I wrote about the harrowing experience back in 2012.
This is how it happens for me: I’m completely asleep, and then something terrible creeps across the room, reaches spindly, pincer-like fingers for my hand, and pinches. That pinch is what wakes me up in terror, gasping and whimpering and trying desperately to pull my arm under the covers. But I can’t. I can’t do anything because no matter how I struggle, I can’t move a muscle. The light in the room is slanted so wrong it makes my skin crawl and all I can do is feel that thing hovering there, grinning horribly just beyond my field of view. I’ve tried to scream but my voice doesn’t work either. The only sound I’m capable of is a dog-pitched whine. The thing doesn’t leave until I lose consciousness.
Image Credit: Doll Room 2011, by A Nightmare on Q Street