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Understanding REM Behavior Disorder And How It Can Be Treated

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If you do not sleep well through the night, then you may need to cut down on the naps and the caffeine consumed throughout the day. If your sleep problems involve acting out dreams, punching the bed, kicking wildly, or sleepwalking, then you likely have a sleep disorder. In your case, REM behavior disorder is probably the culprit. If you are unfamiliar with this sleep problem, then it is in your best interest to seek out a sleep disorders specialist or a sleep professional so a positive diagnosis can be made. As you wait for your appointment, read this article to learn more about the disorder.

What is REM Behavior Disorder?

REM behavior disorder is a condition where you physically react to the mental images that flash through your head as you dream. Reactions may involve attacking monsters in your nightmares or walking around your bedroom as you take a stroll in your dreams. Reactions or movements vary wildly from person to person and dream to dream. In many cases, sleep talking or yelling can occur as well. 

Under normal circumstances, you would be unable to move while in REM sleep. This is the sleep stage where you dream, and brain activity is similar to activity when you are awake. Your body is temporarily paralyzed during this stage of sleep to keep you from injuring yourself. However, if you have REM sleep disorder, then the various sleep stages are mixed or merged together. Features from the stages, such as the ability to move the body then become part of the REM sleep cycle.

In many cases, individuals with the sleep disorder will mumble, jerk, and twitch for several years before the disorder progresses to full movement. This is one reason why the disorder is not always diagnosed or treated early.

How is the Disorder Treated?

A sleep study must be performed before a specific REM behavior disorder diagnosis can be made. The study will involve recording the brain waves to find out when you reach REM sleep and seeing if your body moves during this period of time.

After the study is completed, you will be provided with medication to take just before you go to bed in the evening. Around 90% of the time, treatment works when a small dose of a benzodiazepine is prescribed. This type of medication is typically given to people who have anxiety. It helps to calm the activity of the nerves to keep the body still. If this medication does not work, then your sleep specialist may prescribe a melatonin supplement or a type of antidepressant. Even if a medication is found to work to reduce movements during REM sleep, it is wise to make sure that your bedroom is as safe as possible.

How can You Make the Bedroom Safe?

You need to make sure your bedroom is safe if you have REM behavior disorder in case a violent nightmare or dreaming episode causes movements. Consider moving end tables away from your bed to reduce head injuries and also try to cover all sharp edges that sit near the bed. This means using felt pads or cushioned edge bumpers that are sold as child safety products.

Think about placing a body pillow between yourself and your partner to prevent kicking injuries. The same type of pillow may need to be placed on the floor if your disorder causes you to fall out of bed. Moving all breakable objects from shelves and dressers is a good idea too, and so is adding a lock to the door that is difficult to open while you are sleeping. This is an especially good idea if you sleepwalk or if your bedroom is on the second story of your home. A child gate in front of the stairway may be a good choice too.