Almost every individual experiences difficulty in sleeping during the lifetime. But people undergoing this distress very often may be indicating signs of later diseases. A groundbreaking study suggests sleep disorder to be sign of dementia or Parkinson’s disease up to 50 years before the disorders are diagnosed. Further investigations on this probable correlation can open doors to new therapies to avoid these disorders.

The experts thoroughly scrutinized Mayo Clinic records during the study. It encompassed information about 27 people with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder for at least 15 years. After which they either developed Parkinson’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies or multiple system atrophy. The investigators ascertained multiple system atrophy to be a disorder resulting in symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease.

“Our findings suggest that in some patients, conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia with Lewy bodies have a very long span of activity within the brain and they also may have a long period of time where other symptoms aren’t apparent. More study is needed on this possible link so that scientists may be able to develop therapies that would slow down or stop the progression of these disorders years before the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease or dementia appear,” remarked Bradley F. Boeve, MD, with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., study author and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

It is known that individuals with REM sleep behavior disorder act out their dreams. It may include movements like punching that can hurt themselves or bed partners. A time gap of around 50 years was monitored between occurrence of the sleep disorder and symptoms of neurologic disorders. The scientists share that an average span of 25 years was assumed throughout the study.

Amongst all the participants, while 13 were diagnosed with dementia and 13 others were determined with Parkinson’s disease only one person was diagnosed with multiple system atrophy. However, the researchers were unable to evaluate the number of people with REM disorder to develop Parkinson’s or dementia. It has also not been ascertained whether narcolepsy with or without REM disorder can later cause neurodegenerative disorders.

The study is published in the July 28, 2010, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.