REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

What is REM Sleep Behavior Disorder?

REM sleep encompasses approximately 20% of nightly slumber, and it happens most often during the latter half. It is the time when dreaming takes place, but in those with REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD), sleep is far from peaceful. Those with the rare disorder are most often males over the age of 50.

It rarely affects women. Subjects may exhibit unusual movements and behaviors that include striking out and/or thrashing about while loudly vocalizing. Dreams may be highly disturbing and vivid. The disorder is also referred to as dream-enacting behavior since sufferers physically and verbally react to their dreams.

The exact cause of RBD is unclear, but it commonly occurs in those with narcolepsy, diffuse Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Shy-Drager syndrome and in subjects with other neurodegenerative and sleep-related disorders. It can also occur as a side-affect of certain medications, sudden abstinence from alcohol or drugs and in those with anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What are the Symptoms of REM Sleep Behavior Disorder?

The symptoms of REM sleep behavior disorder may include:

  • Unusual physical activity during sleep such as:
    • Punching
    • Kicking
    • Jerking
    • Swinging of the arms
    • Thrashing about
    • Jumping from the bed

Symptoms of the disorder may also include vocalizations such as:

  • Screaming
  • Crying
  • Laughing
  • Speaking
  • Cursing

How is REM Sleep Behavior Disorder Treated?

The treatment of REM sleep behavior disorder may include the treatment of underlying conditions. Solutions may include:

  • Stringent safeguards to avoid injury
  • Medication such as clonazepam, melatonin or an anti-depressant
  • Avoidance of alcohol
  • Changes in sleep habits

It is important to have a physical and neurological exam to rule out an underlying condition or a neurodegenerative disorder. A sleep study may also be necessary to properly diagnosis and treat REM sleep behavior disorder. Treatment of RBD is usually successful.

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Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
August 22, 2017
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