Distressing dreams and risk of Parkinson’s disease: A population-based cohort study

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is associated with alterations to the phenomenology of dreaming – including an increased frequency of distressing dreams. Whether distressing dreams may precede the development of PD is unknown. This study investigated the association between frequent distressing dreams and the risk of incident PD.
3818 men aged 67 years or older from the Osteoporotic Fractures in Men Study (MrOS), a population-based cohort from the USA, who were free from PD at baseline (December 2003 – April 2011) and completed item 5h of the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index – which probes the frequency of distressing dreams in the past month, were included in this analysis. Incident PD was based on doctor diagnosis. Multivariable logistic regression was used to estimate odds ratios (OR) for incident PD according to distressing dream frequency, with adjustment for potential confounders.

During a mean follow-up of 7·3 years, 91 (2·4%) cases of incident PD were identified. Participants with frequent distressing dreams at baseline had a 2-fold risk for incident PD (OR, 2·01; 95% CI, 1·1-3·6, P = 0.02). When stratified by follow-up time, frequent distressing dreams were associated with a greater than 3-fold risk for incident PD during the first 5 years after baseline (OR, 3·38; 95% CI, 1·3-8·7; P = 0·01), however no effect was found during the subsequent 7 years (OR, 1·55; 95% CI, 0·7-3·3; P = 0·26).

In this prospective cohort, frequent distressing dreams were associated with an increased risk for incident PD. The association was only significant within the 5 years prior to diagnosis, which suggests that frequent distressing dreams may be a prodromal symptom of PD.