We spend a 3rd of our lives asleep. And 1 / 4 of our time asleep is spent dreaming. So, for the common individual alive in 2022, with a life expectancy of round 73, that clocks in at simply over six years of dreaming.
But, given the central function that dreaming performs in our lives, we nonetheless know so little about why we dream, how the mind creates desires, and importantly, what the importance of our desires is likely to be for our well being – particularly the well being of our brains.
My newest examine, printed in The Lancet’s eClinicalMedicine journal, reveals that our desires can reveal a shocking quantity of details about our mind well being.
Extra particularly, it reveals that having frequent dangerous desires and nightmares (dangerous desires that make you get up) throughout center or older age, could also be linked with an elevated threat of creating dementia.
Within the examine, I analyzed information from three giant US research of well being and getting older. These included over 600 individuals aged between 35 and 64, and a pair of,600 individuals aged 79 and older.
All of the members had been dementia-free at first of the examine and had been adopted for a mean of 9 years for the middle-aged group and 5 years for the older members.
In the beginning of the examine (2002-12), the members accomplished a variety of questionnaires, together with one which requested about how usually they skilled dangerous desires and nightmares.
I analyzed the info to search out out whether or not members with a better frequency of nightmares firstly of the examine had been extra more likely to go on to expertise cognitive decline (a quick decline in reminiscence and pondering expertise over time) and be identified with dementia.
I discovered that middle-aged members who skilled nightmares each week, had been 4 instances extra more likely to expertise cognitive decline (a precursor to dementia) over the next decade, whereas the older members had been twice as more likely to be identified with dementia.
Apparently, the connection between nightmares and future dementia was a lot stronger for males than for ladies.
For instance, older males who had nightmares each week had been 5 instances extra more likely to develop dementia in contrast with older males reporting no dangerous desires.
In ladies, nevertheless, the rise in threat was solely 41 p.c. I discovered a really comparable sample within the middle-aged group.
Total, these outcomes counsel frequent nightmares could also be one of many earliest indicators of dementia, which may precede the event of reminiscence and pondering issues by a number of years and even many years – particularly in males.
Alternatively, it’s also doable that having common dangerous desires and nightmares may even be a reason for dementia.
Given the character of this examine, it isn’t doable to make certain which of those theories is appropriate (although I think it’s the former). Nonetheless, no matter which idea seems to be true – the foremost implication of the examine stays the identical, that’s, that having common dangerous desires and nightmares throughout center and older age could also be linked to an elevated threat of creating dementia later in life.
The excellent news is that recurring nightmares are treatable. And the first-line medical therapy for nightmares has already been proven to lower the build-up of irregular proteins linked to Alzheimer’s illness.
There have additionally been case stories displaying enhancements in reminiscence and pondering expertise after treating nightmares.
These findings counsel that treating nightmares may assist to sluggish cognitive decline and to stop dementia from creating in some individuals. This can be an vital avenue to discover in future analysis.
The subsequent steps for my analysis will embrace investigating whether or not nightmares in younger individuals may additionally be linked to elevated dementia threat. This might assist to find out whether or not nightmares trigger dementia, or whether or not they’re merely an early check in some individuals.
I additionally plan to analyze whether or not different dream traits, similar to how usually we bear in mind our desires and the way vivid they’re, may additionally assist to find out how seemingly persons are to develop dementia sooner or later.
This analysis may not solely assist to make clear the connection between dementia and dreaming, and supply new alternatives for earlier diagnoses – and probably earlier interventions – however it might additionally shed new mild on the character and performance of the mysterious phenomenon that we name dreaming.