Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behaviour disorder (RBD) is characterised by complex motor enactment of dreams and is a potential prodromal marker of Parkinson's disease (PD). Of note, patients with PD observed during RBD episodes exhibit improved motor function, relative to baseline states during wake periods. Here, we review recent epidemiological and mechanistic findings supporting the prodromal value of RBD for PD, incorporating clinical and electrophysiological studies. Explanations for the improved motor function during RBD episodes are evaluated in light of recent publications. In addition, we present preliminary findings describing changes in the activity of the basal ganglia across the sleep–wake cycle that contribute to our understanding of RBD.