Interrupted sleep patterns may be precursor to Parkinson’s disease

When Hamlet said “To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub” he may have been unknowingly showing signs of a serious disease

Danish researchers believe they have found a link between people with a particular sleep disorder during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase and Parkinson’s disease.

READ ALSO: Danish research aims to diagnose Parkinson’s early via a phone call

Parkinson’s disease is a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that mainly affects the motor system. Around 7,300 people in Denmark suffer from it. The disease occurs because groups of nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine cease to function.

Although there is no cure, it is possible to treat the symptoms and the sooner the condition is diagnosed, the better chance there is of at least keeping it in check.

A dopamine shortage
Sleep disorders can be a sign of an infection in the brain. Researchers at Aarhus University Hospital and University Hospital Clínic de Barcelona have investigated the dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain that are part of the immune system of people who suffer from sleep disorders – particularly during the REM phase. Their brains were found to be lacking in dopamine.

Healthy people are relaxed and lie still during the dream phase of sleep but those with rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder, RBD, undergo a disturbed sleep and punch, kick or shout in their sleep.

“These patients have an infection in the brain where the dopamine-producing nerve cells are found,” explained one of the researchers, Morten Gersel Stokholm from Aarhus University and the PET centre at Aarhus University Hospital.

The missing link
This is ground-breaking research because nobody has previously proved that there is a connection between a brain infection and the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. The findings have just been published in The Lancet Neurology.

“The hope is that this knowledge can be used to determine which patients with sleep disorders might later develop Parkinson’s disease,” said Stokholm.

“At the same time, it is also knowledge that can be helpful when it comes to developing drugs that can prevent or arrest the development of diseases.”

Sleep disturbance often hits people between the ages of 50 and 70 and is more common among men than women – as is Parkinson’s disease, which also strikes the same age group and also shows the same gender bias.

  • How internationals can benefit from joining trade unions

    How internationals can benefit from joining trade unions

    Being part of a trade union is a long-established norm for Danes. But many internationals do not join unions – instead enduring workers’ rights violations. Find out how joining a union could benefit you, and how to go about it.

  • Internationals in Denmark rarely join a trade union

    Internationals in Denmark rarely join a trade union

    Internationals are overrepresented in the lowest-paid fields of agriculture, transport, cleaning, hotels and restaurants, and construction – industries that classically lack collective agreements. A new analysis from the Workers’ Union’s Business Council suggests that internationals rarely join trade unions – but if they did, it would generate better industry standards.

  • Novo Nordisk overtakes LEGO as the most desirable future workplace amongst university students

    Novo Nordisk overtakes LEGO as the most desirable future workplace amongst university students

    The numbers are especially striking amongst the 3,477 business and economics students polled, of whom 31 percent elected Novo Nordisk as their favorite, compared with 20 percent last year.