I came across this in a Discover Magazine article and had a
flash of recognition: I have this disorder.
REM sleep is the period when you are dreaming. You are
supposed to be paralyzed (atonia) at this time so that you
don't act out (parasomnia). Sleep walking is an example of
parasomnia, but REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) is characterized by
more aggressive behaviour: kicking, punching.. people get
hurt, either the person with the disorder or sometimes other
I've had this as long as I can remember. With me, the
dreams almost always are that someone has broken into the house.
I attack them, screaming loudly. When I say "attack", I mean
exactly that: I've leaped out of bed, run across the house
and done a flying tackle of an imagined intruder. I got
rug burns out of that incident.
While in my teens I caught the thief (or murderer or whatever
he was supposed to be) and tried to wrestle him to the ground.
He was amazingly strong and I wasn't able to get him down.. I
yelled for help ("I've got him! I've got him!"). When my sister
came running, she found me holding my own wrist and flailing
about wildly. My arm hurt for a week after that one.
Last year I broke a big toe. In that case, I caught the s.o.b.
and was kicking him viciously..
Fortunately I have never hurt anyone other than myself. This
has been a "normal" part of my life, so I never thought of it
as a disease, but apparently it is: WebMD has a whole page on it..
Apparently it's most common in men over 60 and "may occur in association with various degenerative neurological conditions such as Parkinson disease".
It's a bit strange to think of this as a disease. I've experienced
these things for so long it really does seem normal. Statistics for
the number of people who have this problem are low, but they are
probably also very inaccurate: like me, many people with RBD
may never have thought it was anything for which they should seek medical
I'm most likely to have these incidents when I'm overtired or stressed.
From what I've read, treatment with drugs such as Clonazepam can prevent
this, but I don't like the idea of taking things with possible side effects
that are much worse than a broken toe or some rug burns. On the other
hand, my poor wife has to live with this too. Her sleep gets disturbed
and of course she's worried that she might become the object of my
aggression. I don't think that's likely, but I understand her fear so
I have to do something.
In scouting about, I've read that melatonin might help this
also. That has far fewer side effects, especially if I only take
it when I think one of these episodes is likely. I'll try that first.
If I weren't a stubborn old coot, I might go see my doctor about
this. Well, if the melatonin doesn't work, I will, but it's hard
to imagine that this is anything degenerative after having had it for
so long. I don't want to waste a lot of money and time on tests
for things that I'm extremely unlikely to have.
So there we are. I thought it was just nightmares, but gosh no,
it's a "disorder". I'll try melatonin and hope that it helps.
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© 2013-03-03 Anthony Lawrence