15/09/2010 15:16 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Intense Nightmares Could 'Signal Parkinson's'

In the medical world's ongoing battle to gain greater understanding of Parkinson's, a new breakthrough in its prognosis: that severe nightmares which cause people to shout in their sleep or to move violently could be an early symptom of the disease.

Michael J Fox is diagnosed with Parkinson's

Scientists claim that people who suffer from "REM sleep disturbance" are at a higher risk of developing a neurological disease within the next five years. Normally, the body stays still when we enter REM sleep and begin to dream but those with an REM sleep disorder often scream and thrash around as they 'act out' their dreams.

The research so far is, at best, basic, with Spanish researchers having looked at just 43 cases of people over the age of 60 with an REM disorder, finding that 30% of them went on to develop a brain disease - in most cases Parkinson's - and this all within two and a half years of being diagnosed with the sleep disorder.

Currently doctors are only able to spot Parkinson's once the body displays symptoms of the disease, but by then it's already at an advanced stage. This research means that symptoms can be spotted sooner, making it a welcome piece of news for those affected by the disease.

Following on from this Spanish study, researchers in America say that a simple voice test could one day diagnose patients with Parkinson's, allowing for important treatment to start sooner and for us all to sleep a little sounder at night.