Most people experience nightmares at some point in their lives. Besides the temporary emotional distress, these bad dreams are generally believed to be harmless and benign.
However, new research suggests that experiencing frequent nightmares in middle age may be a warning sign for an increased risk of developing dementia in later life.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a term used to describe a decline in cognitive function, including memory, language, and problem-solving abilities. It is often caused by brain damage or disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is a progressive disorder, meaning that it gradually gets worse over time.
What is the Connection Between Nightmares and Dementia?
A recent study published in The Lancet journal found that people who experienced frequent nightmares in middle age were more likely to develop dementia later in life.
Individuals who reported distressing dreams between the ages of 35 and 64 were found to be at least twice as likely to develop cognitive decline.
Previous studies have noted that this relationship between nightmares and brain health may occur in both directions.
Quality sleep plays an important role in restoring your health and preventing illnesses in your brain and body. If nightmares are disturbing your sleep, this may contribute to declines in your physical, emotional, or cognitive health.
Additionally, changes or problems in your brain or nervous system may manifest as nightmares. So rather than nightmares causing cognitive decline, nightmares may be the result of cognitive decline. Even if you don’t have any other signs of dementia, nightmares in middle age may indicate that neurological changes are developing toward dementia.
Although there is still a lot more that needs to be studied and researched about the connection between nightmares and dementia, it’s always a good idea to let your doctor know if you are experiencing distressing dreams. This may provide an opportunity for early diagnosis and treatment to manage the issue before it gets worse.
Can Nightmares Be Prevented or Treated?
There may be a few steps that can be taken to reduce the frequency and intensity of nightmares. These include:
● Reducing stress and anxiety through relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga
● Avoiding certain medications that are known to cause nightmares
● Seeking treatment for any underlying health conditions that may be causing nightmares
● Keeping a regular sleep schedule and maintaining a healthy lifestyle
While more research is needed to fully understand the link between nightmares and dementia, this new study highlights the importance of treating frequent nightmares as a potential health concern.