We've all had dreams we never want to wake up from, and nightmares we couldn't wake up fast enough from. But what about violent dreams, whether ones that satisfy our darkest desires we didn't even know existed, or make us wonder if there some secret evil inside us? New brain science research indicates that violent dreams could be a sign of brain damage to come. Here's an overview of the groundbreaking study and a few worrisome implications of what this research can lead to.
There is a mysterious sleep-state condition called "Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep Behavior Disorder," or RBD for short. People with this condition, according to the doctors who published their research in the most recent issue of Neurology, show that the first signs of neurological diseases can appear decades before a person is diagnosed. They hope that recognizing these warning signs may allow better monitoring and treatment patients before brain damage occurs. And one of those signs are violent dreams. What would Sigmund Freud say about that?
The dreams of people with RBD tend to get progressively more violent and more frequent, often involving murder scenes. The usual bodily stillness associated with sleeping disappear, and they often act out the scenes, including punching and yelling. Males are much more likely to develop RBD than females, and there is a danger for sharing beds to be injured by them.
“The consensus among all RBD researchers is that it’s not a matter of if, but when,” says sleep expert Carlos Schenck of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center in Minneapolis, who was one of the first researchers to describe RBD. “Basically, the longer you follow these men, the more they will convert to a neurodegenerative disorder.” “In the neurodegenerative realm, we just don’t know any other clinical manifestations that can start so far in advance,” another research said. “There are so few other illnesses that can have a window of decades from one clinical manifestation to another.” Violent dreams can appear up to fifty years in advance of brain damage.
There are serious ethical implications to this study. Are people who enact these violent dreams in waking life to be excused for their crimes? Can or should this knowledge be used by police forces as well as doctors to prevent dangerous possibilities from becoming reality? What can this tell us about historical violent people, from Genghis Kahn to Hitler? But one thing this study leaves out is that if violent dreams point to brain damage, what do peaceful ones point to?