REM Behavior Disorder and Sleep

In REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep, we experience vivid dreams while usually residing motionlessly in bed, but what if we acted out our dreams physically at the same time? In that case, we’d be suffering from what’s called REM Behavior Disorder, or RBD.

The thing about REM sleep is that our brains function almost as if we’re awake, but at the same time we generally experience what’s called “temporary muscle paralysis.” So our dreams are generally motionless and soundless, i.e., we don’t voice or act out our thoughts.

But with RBD, people will start twitching, jerking and talking during their dreams — sometimes for years — before they actually begin acting out their dreams physically and vocally.

The cause of this disorder is not fully understood, but researchers believe that normally functioning neurological barriers cease operating correctly when people experience RBD. Sleepwalking is often one of the symptoms of RBD, but worse, people acting out their dreams can inflict violence on themselves and/or their bed partners, so it is not a problem to be dismissed lightly.

Fortunately, incidents of RBD are fairly rare, affecting only 0.5 percent of the population, but among those afflicted, dangerous consequences lurk. More fortunately, medicines can cure this problem. Clonazepam, a benzodiazapine, curtails or eliminates the disorder about 90 percent of the time. The advantage of the medication is that people don’t usually develop a tolerance for the drug, even over a period of years. When clonazepam doesn’t work, some antidepressants or melatonin may reduce the violent behavior.

While RBD is fairly rare, sleep problems aren’t. If your days are shortchanged because of your nights and lack of rejuvenating sleep, it’s time to, first, examine your sleep hygiene habits, and if that doesn’t do the trick, to seek the counseling of a sleep professional. Your sleep is too important to your overall well-being to be ignored.

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