What Exactly IS REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder?

B/W photo of man in knitted cap throwing punch with right handEven if you’ve never heard the name for it, you probably have experienced it at least once in your lifetime: out of nowhere, in the middle of the night you get a punch or kick in your back or side….or even in your face – and your sibling or partner is completely unaware they are doing it!

Those punches, kicks, slaps, etc. are the manifestations of REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder – the normal muscle paralysis of sleep is somehow disengaged.  The condition can actually be dangerous not only to the sleeper him/herself, but to others around them.

The disorder occurs during REM sleep and causes the person to physically act out vivid and often unpleasant dreams with vocalisations and sudden, violent arm/leg movements during sleep – these movements are also referred to as dream-enacting behaviour.

What Causes the Disorder?

Neural pathways in the brain inhibit muscle movement during the period of REM sleep, when we are dreaming, causing temporary paralysis of the body.  For whatever reason, in REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder, the pathways stop functioning and we physically act out our dreams.

REM Sleep and Physical Movement

Image of figure holding crowbar silhouetted by car headlightsNormally there is no movement during REM sleep, a sleep stage which occurs many times during the night. About 20% of our sleep is spent in REM sleep, with dreaming generally taking place during the second half of the night.

Instead of experiencing the normal temporary paralysis of our arms and legs (called atonia) during REM sleep, we act out what is occurring in our dreams.

Some of the symptoms of REM sleep behaviour disorder include:

  • Movement – Punching, kicking, jumping out of bed, etc.
  • Noise – Talking, laughing, cursing, screaming, emotional outbursts
  • Recall – Being able to recall the dream if awakened during the episode

The onset of the problem can be gradual or sudden; episode may only happen occasionally or several times in one night – but the disorder often worsens over time.

Who Is Affected by the Disorder?

person in free fall through cloudesThere are various factors associated with development of this disorder, including:

  • Males over 50 years of age – Despite the prevalence of men developing the disorder, a growing number of women are also being diagnosed, particularly under the age of 50. Young adults and children may be at risk if they have been diagnosed with narcolepsy or prescribed antidepressants or when brain tumours are present.
  • Neurodegenerative disease – Illnesses such as Parkinson’s, multiple system atrophy, stroke or Lewy Body Dementia may also provoke the development of the disorder.
  • Narcolepsy diagnosis – this chronic sleep disorder is characterised by overwhelming daytime drowsiness
  • Medication – certain medications, including the newer versions of antidepressants or even the withdrawal of drugs or alcohol may be sufficient to cause the disorder to occur.
  • Other factors – More recent research indicated that there may also be specific environmental or personal risk factors for the disorder, including: pesticide exposure, farming, smoking or head injury.

How does it affect Sufferers?

Some of the issues highlighted by those suffering from the condition include:

  • Distress to sleeping partner or others around them
  • Social isolation due to fears about others knowing about the condition
  • Injury to self or others

Couple arguing

In addition to the physical injury the disorder may cause to the sleeper or those around them, the emotional impact is just as devastating; suffers may become isolated, feel irritable and alone.  They have difficulties with their partner who doesn’t understand what is happening to them.  His/her home, work and social lives may also be negatively impacted as a result.

Can the Condition be Treated?

It is essential to receive medical treatment as soon as possible.

In general the disorder is treated with medication and injury prevention, which is vital if impacted by the condition.  It should be treated as soon as possible, as there is the risk that the occurrences will happen more frequently if left unaddressed.

Need Help to Improve Your Sleep?

Book a complimentary Slip into Sleep Session to help you determine just WHAT is keeping you from sleeping and HOW simple changes and techniques can improve your sleep, think more clearly and make better decisions.  Book at:  www.meetingwithsheila.com