Could You Have A Violent Sleep Disorder?
You’ve probably seen movies where a veteran returns home from the horrors of war and wakes in the middle of the night yelling, punching or flailing so much that they harm themselves or a sleep partner.
This isn’t just Hollywood drama. New research has identified who’s most at risk for this troubling sleep condition.
It’s called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder, and about 1 percent of people over 50 who have a sleep study are diagnosed with it.
“REM sleep behavior disorder is different than sleepwalking. It only occurs during REM sleep, when we dream,” explained the study’s senior author, Dr. Ronald Postuma. He’s a professor of neurology at Montreal General Hospital in Montreal, Quebec.
Normally, people are temporarily paralyzed during REM sleep. This usually keeps people from acting out their dreams. But in people with REM sleep behavior disorder, something goes wrong with the system that paralyzes people during sleep, Postuma said.
“Most people think this behavior is normal,” he said, adding that people often don’t ask their doctor about their bizarre sleep behavior until they hurt someone.
People can become quite violent. Some have even used a diagnosis of a sleep disorder such as REM sleep behavior disorder to explain away violent crimes in court, according to Postuma and published reports.
About 80 percent of REM sleep behavior disorder patients will develop a very serious neurological condition, such as Parkinson’s disease or a type of memory and thinking condition called dementia with Lewy bodies, according to the study. REM sleep behavior disorder may be an early marker of trouble in the body’s neurological system, Postuma noted.
To identify other risk factors linked to REM sleep behavior disorder, researchers asked more than 30,000 participants in a long-term study on aging in Canada if they had ever been told or suspected themselves that they had acted out their dreams while asleep.
Almost 1,000 people said yes.
The investigators found that people who had REM sleep behavior disorder were twice as likely as the general public to have mental illness, and more than 2.5 times as likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, these people were more than 1.5 times more likely to report having psychological distress.