Summary: Children who frequently have nightmares at age 11 are twice as likely to develop symptoms of cognitive impairment and seven times as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease by age 50.
Source: The conversation
Can children’s dreams predict events that will happen almost 40 years from now? Yes, according to the results of my latest study published in The Lancet’s eClinicalMedicine log.
Specifically, it showed that children who regularly have bad dreams and nightmares between the ages of 7 and 11 may be nearly twice as likely to develop cognitive impairment (the main hallmark of dementia) by the time they reach the age of 18. age of 50. And they may be up to seven times more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease before the age of 50.
To give some insight into these startling findings, in 2022 I found that middle-aged and older adults who frequently have bad dreams and nightmares may be more than twice as likely to develop dementia or the disease. of Parkinson’s in the future.
Since a large proportion of people who regularly have nightmares in adulthood also report having had them regularly as children, this made me wonder if having a lot of bad dreams during childhood could predict the development of dementia or Parkinson’s disease later in life.
To find out, I used data from the famous 1958 UK Birth Cohort Study, which tracks the lives of all children born in England, Scotland and Wales during the week of March 3-9, 1958. .
When the children were seven (1965) and 11 (1969), their mothers answered a series of questions about their health, including whether they had had bad dreams in the previous three months (yes/no) .
I grouped the 6,991 children by how often they had bad dreams at ages 7 and 11: “never,” “occasionally,” or “persistent.” I then used statistical software to determine whether children with more regular nightmares were more likely to develop cognitive impairment or be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease by age 50 (2008).
The results were clear. The more regularly children had bad dreams, the more likely they were to develop cognitive impairment or be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Remarkably, compared to children who never had bad dreams, those who had persistent bad dreams were 76% more likely to develop cognitive impairment and 640% more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. This trend was similar for boys and girls.
These findings suggest that regularly having bad dreams and nightmares during childhood may increase the risk of developing progressive brain diseases like dementia or Parkinson’s disease later in life. They also raise the intriguing possibility that reducing the frequency of bad dreams early in life could be an early opportunity to prevent both conditions.
More studies will be needed to confirm whether bad dreams and nightmares really cause these conditions.
How often we have nightmares as children is largely determined by our genetics. And a gene known to increase our risk of having regular nightmares (PTPRJ) is also linked to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in old age. So it’s possible that both nightmares and progressive brain disease are caused by a common set of genes.
My hunch is that both theories could be true. That is, nightmares and progressive brain disease are linked by shared genetics, as well as nightmares directly causing brain disease by disrupting the brain-restoring elements of sleep.
While these results seem alarming, put into context, they shouldn’t be. Of the approximately 7,000 children included in my study, only 268 (4%) had persistent bad dreams according to their mothers. Among these children, only 17 had developed cognitive disorders or Parkinson’s disease by the age of 50 (6%).
It is therefore likely that the vast majority of people who have persistent bad dreams in childhood will not develop dementia praecox or Parkinson’s disease.
However, the risk of developing progressive brain diseases increases dramatically with old age. Being aware that bad dreams in childhood can signal a higher risk of dementia or Parkinson’s disease later in life suggests that there may be a window of opportunity to implement simple strategies to reduce these. risks. And for young people with frequent distressing dreams that persist over time, getting help for nightmares might be one such strategy.
The next step in my research is to use electroencephalography (a technique for measuring brain waves) to examine the biological reasons for bad dreams and nightmares in children.
In the longer term, the objective will be to use this knowledge to develop new treatments for all people troubled by bad dreams and nightmares. The ultimate goal is to improve their sleep quality and mental health and reduce their risk of developing dementia or Parkinson’s disease later in life.
About this sleep and neurodegeneration research news
Author: Abedemi Otaiku
Source: The conversation
Contact: Abidemi Otaiku – The Conversation
Picture: Image is in public domain
Original research: Free access.
“Distressful Dreams in Childhood and Risk of Cognitive Impairment or Parkinson’s Disease in Adulthood: A National Birth Cohort Study” by Abidemi Otaiku. Online clinical medicine
Childhood distressing dreams and risk of cognitive impairment or Parkinson’s disease in adulthood: A national birth cohort study
Distressing dreams in middle-aged and older adults have been associated with an increased risk of developing cognitive impairment (including dementia) and Parkinson’s disease (PD). It is not known whether distressing dreams in young people may be associated with an increased risk of developing these conditions. This study examined the association between childhood distressing dreams and the risk of developing cognitive impairment or PD at age 50.
Data from the 1958 British Birth Cohort Study – a prospective birth cohort which included all people born in Britain in a single week in 1958, were used in this longitudinal analysis. Information about distressing dreams was obtained prospectively from mothers of children at age 7 (1965) and age 11 (1969). Cognitive impairment and PD at age 50 (2008) were determined by cognitive assessment and medical diagnosis, respectively. The association between distressing dreams at ages 7 and 11 (no time point, 1 time point, 2 time points) and cognitive impairment or PD at age 50 was assessed at using Firth’s multivariate logistic regression, with adjustment for potential confounders.
Among 6991 children (50.6% female) with available follow-up at age 50, 267 (3.8%) developed cognitive impairment or PD. After adjusting for all covariates, having more regular distressing dreams during childhood was linearly and statistically significantly associated with a higher risk of developing cognitive impairment or PD at age 50 (P for trend = 0.037). Compared to children who had never had distressing dreams (no time point), children who had persistent distressing dreams (2 time points) had an 85% increased risk of developing cognitive impairment or PD at age 50 (adjusted odds ratio = 1.85; 95% CI: 1.10, 3.11).
Having persistent distressing dreams in childhood may be associated with an increased risk of developing cognitive impairment or PD in adulthood. Future studies are needed to confirm these findings and to determine whether treating distressing dreams early in life can reduce the risk of dementia and PD.
The study received no external funding.