What is REM Sleep Behavior Disorder?

Rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder—or REM sleep behavior disorder—is a disorder where a person acts out vivid dreams while they sleep. The dreams almost always involve action, sometimes violent. The actions a person may imitate during REM sleep behavior disorder may include grabbing, flailing, punching, kicking, jumping, climbing, swearing, or shouting.

When a person is awoken from REM sleep behavior disorder, he or she can often recall the dream, but not the actions performed while asleep. REM sleep behavior disorder is often confused with sleepwalking or night terrors. However, unlike those who sleep walk, people with REM sleep behavior disorder rarely actually walk, nor do they leave the room, get up to urinate, or participate in sexual activity.

REM sleep behavior disorder episodes normally occur at least an hour into sleeping. Episodes always occur during the REM part of sleep when people dream. Because they rarely remember the actions they perform during episodes, many people with REM sleep behavior disorder aren't aware of their problem until warned by a partner. If the condition continues and is left untreated, actions can become more pronounced and violent, thus putting other people at risk.

Causes and Treatment Options

Men are more likely to have REM sleep behavior disorder, especially when over the age of 50. People with Parkinson's disease and multiple system atrophy are also more likely to have REM sleep behavior disorder than the general public. People with REM sleep behavior disorder are at a higher risk for narcolepsy, periodic limb movement disorder, and sleep apnea. Other factors that increase the intensity and duration of REM sleep can also trigger REM sleep behavior disorder. These include, among others, sleep deprivation, alcohol withdrawal, brainstem tumors, stroke, and certain medications.

A doctor can prescribe medication to help alleviate the symptoms of REM sleep behavior disorder. Other precautions that can alleviate potential complications include maintaining a normal sleep schedule and avoiding alcohol. Removing dangerous objects from the bedroom can be helpful in keeping the person and their sleeping partners safe. 

Learn more about REM sleep behavior disorder.