Boston University researchers discover link between CTE and severe sleep disorder

BOSTON (WHDH) - Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Veteran’s Affairs Boston Healthcare System say they have discovered a connection between CTE and a severe sleep disorder.

The researchers analyzed the brains of more than 240 athletes to explore the relationship between contact sports, brain disease and symptoms of REM sleep behavior disorder.

The disorder causes the individuals to act out their dreams by talking, flailing their arms and legs, punching, grabbing, and more.

The study found that more than 30 percent of the contact sport athletes with CTE experienced these symptoms.

“We think its a feature of the disease and its linked to years of play,” Dr. Thor Stein said.

NFL star Leonard Marshall — who has been diagnosed with likely CTE symptoms — said he has dealt with sleep disturbances.

“My wife’s told me on multiple occasions that I’d been flailing my arms in my sleep, grabbing at her face, grabbing at her neck as if I’m trying to tackle her,” Marshall said.

Dr. Stein said the disorder tends to appear in the early stages of the degenerative brain disease.

“It certainly takes some time for the pathologies to develop but it’s probably related to injury to some of the brain cell circuitry that kind of controls sleep,” she said.

The discovery is now helping researchers better understand the effects of repetitive head trauma. However, they say there is still a lot to be learned.

“There’s still a lot we don’t quite know about the disease. They can come and go and it’s not clear what maybe brings them out but once you develop this sort of disorder it tends to persist,” Stein said.

Doctors said it is unlikely high school athletes would develop this kind of sleep disorder.

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