REM sleep behaviour disorder: symptoms and causes

September 30, 2020 3 mins read
REM sleep behaviour disorder: symptoms and causes

Did you know that physically acting out your dreams while you’re sleeping can be a sign of REM sleep behaviour disorder?

If you regularly jerk your arms and legs (in some cases quite violently) or talk loudly in your sleep (read: shout, cry out or curse), then REM sleep behaviour disorder could be to blame.

Take a look at the symptoms, causes and solutions of this common sleep problem.

What is REM sleep behaviour disorder?

Rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder is a sleep issue that causes dream-enacting behaviour. During REM sleep (dream sleep), you can physically act out your dreams, which can be quite realistic and often unpleasant.

What are the symptoms?

The best way to determine whether you have REM sleep behaviour disorder is during a sleep study. But in the meantime, look out for these symptoms.

Moving while you are asleep

One of the first signs of this condition is moving around while asleep. When you’re performing your dreams in real-time, you can sit up abruptly, kick, punch, or flail your arms.

Making noises in your sleep

Sleep can become quite noisy with this condition. You might find yourself talking, laughing, shouting and crying. And you could even let slip a dirty word or two. We’ve even heard of cases where someone professed their love during sleep. (Awkward much?)

Remembering your dreams

One symptom is being able to clearly remember your dreams after waking up. This is part of what makes it different from sleepwalking, where you also move around in your sleep, but you cannot remember your dream.

What causes REM sleep behaviour disorder?

You have two main sleep cycles: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. When you are in REM sleep, your brain is highly active, while your body experiences muscle paralysis. But if you have REM sleep disorder, paralysis doesn’t happen, and your body responds to the images in your mind.

If you are running around during a football game in your dream, your body might follow in reality!

On a serious note, however, this disorder can occur because of certain medications, drug and alcohol withdrawal, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can also indicate an underlying neurodegenerative condition like Parkinson’s disease.

How is it treated?

REM sleep behaviour disorder is usually treated with medication or by adopting good sleep habits (or both).

What do good sleep habits look like?

  • Having a set bedtime and wake-up time
  • Avoiding blue light from digital screams before bed
  • Eating foods that help the body relax and promote sleep
  • Exercising during the day
  • Lowering the temperature of your room
  • Doing relaxing activities before bed like meditating and taking a relaxing bath

Living with REM sleep behaviour disorder

Besides saying or doing things in your sleep you are not aware of, there is also a risk that you can hurt yourself or the person sleeping next to you. For these reasons, living with REM sleep behaviour disorder means sleeping safely. Remove potentially dangerous objects in the room, move the bed away from a window, and in severe cases, you can even install bed rails.

But first, start by incorporating some lifestyle changes, like setting a regular bedtime and limiting blue light exposure before bed. If the problem persists, speak to your GP about undergoing a polysomnography sleep study.

They will be able to give you more guidance on how to sleep well and sleep safely.