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REM sleep behavior disorder linked to violent behavior

04/28/2010

A recent article in The Miami Herald tells the frightening stories of several people with rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, which can often take years to be properly diagnosed. This sleep disorder, which has been increasingly recognized as common in Lewy body dementia, was added to the diagnostic criteria in 2005.

In REM sleep behavior disorder, the part of the brain that turns off muscle activity during REM sleep is damaged; this allows them to move around while they are still dreaming. When people with this disorder dream that someone is chasing them, for example, they react by trying to run away or fight off the attacker. People have jumped out windows or tried to strangle their bed partners while they are asleep.

Researchers know that the parts of the brain affected by REM sleep behavior disorder are near to those affected by Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. In fact, an estimated 25 percent to 50 percent of people with REM sleep behavior disorder will go on to develop these conditions. Researchers hope to develop new drugs that will prevent Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia by treating REM sleep behavior disorder as soon as its symptoms appear. In the meantime, many patients with REM sleep behavior disorder have been treated successfully with clonazepam and melatonin. These drugs have allowed patients and their partners to sleep well, some for the first time in years.

To read the article in The Miami Herald click here.