For the most part, sleep disorders are personal problems. They are disturbing for many reasons but friends and family do not directly experience the horror that comes with sleep paralysis or night terrors. Instead, those that are close to someone with a sleep disorder sometimes suffer indirectly. A child’s night terrors will frighten an adult and may make sleeping through the night difficult. A person with sleep apnea may snore so loud that their significant other loses sleep. REM Sleep Behavior Disorder is different. Not only can it affect someone who doesn’t have it, but, according to some legal cases, can kill them.
REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is a title that covers many different types of disorders in which a person acts out their dreams. While we sleep, our bodies experience sleep atonia. Atonia is a loss of muscle tone experienced during sleep due to a chemical our brains secrete during sleep. This temporary paralysis inhibits us from acting out our dreams. However, the mind is a complex thing and sometimes things don’t act the way they should. RBD is caused by a lack of sleep atonia. This allows us to act out our dreams during the REM stage of sleep. Sleep atonia may also be a contributing factor for sleep paralysis.
If a person is experiencing RBD, they may exhibit some unusual signs. Some people talk in their sleep while others may show sexual activities. This has been dubbed Sexsomnia by the National Sleep Foundation. A person may also do other things like urinate in odd places, prepare a meal, or drive a car. But, some behaviors can be violent. Reports have shown that in some episodes, an individual may flail their arms and legs or punch or kick someone next to them. RBD has also been used as a legal defense in murder cases. These cases are very rare and some have been found out to be fabrications by the perpetrator.
RBD vs. Sleep Walking
RBD is often confused with sleepwalking but the two are very different. As stated before RBD occurs during a REM cycle of sleep. In this cycle, a person can be easily aroused awake and will probably remember the dream they were having. Sleepwalking, on the other hand, occurs during a cycle of NREM sleep. A person in this stage of sleep will be difficult to wake up and will have no recollection of any dreams they may have been having.
Who Experiences REM Sleep Behavior Disorder?
Like many parasomnias, RBD can be the symptom of other sleep problems such as:
- Sleep Apnea
- Sleep Deprivation
- Poor sleeping habits
- Stress and anxiety
RBD may also be linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and Lewy Body dementia.
The demographic that experiences RBD the most is men over 50. This may be due to the decreased periods of sleep atonia that is experienced with general aging.
Aside from extreme cases and bizarre behaviors, a person experiencing RBD is relatively safe and harmless. If, however, an individual starts wondering away throughout the night or becoming violent there are things that can help.
Some people install door alarms on their houses to wake the person up if they happen to try to go outside. Some will tie an arm or a leg to the bed to prevent them from wandering off. Another thing to protect someone with RBD is to make sure weapons or objects that can be used as weapons are locked up or out of the bedroom. A doctor may also be able to prescribe medications so help with RBD.