What is rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD)?

Alon Avidan, MD
Rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD) occurs when people act out their dreams and actually punch, kick, scream, and yell. When an older adult does this -- and they're yelling, screaming, fighting, punching -- it is usually predictive of a neurodegenerative disease. People who act out their dreams with fighting should see their primary care physician because it could mean that they could develop a neurologic condition later in life.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

REM Behavior Disorder is when a person does not follow normal REM sleep behavior patterns. Over the course of the night a normal sleeper will go in and out of a sleep cycle at least a few times. During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the brain shuts down certain signals: The sleeper's muscles are paralyzed and the brain goes into dreamland. In people with REM behavior disorder, muscles become activated and dreams breakthrough causing the afflicted to swear, scream, thrash and punch as they try to mimic what they are experiencing in their dreams. Anyone in his or her wake is a potential victim.

Although it can occur at any time of life, it is more common in men over 60. Recently the disorder has sparked interest as it may foreshadow some neurodegenerative diseases. Studies have shown that many people with REM behavior disorder develop Parkinson’s disease or other form of dementia years later.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) is an REM sleep disorder that is a possible early sign of Parkinson’s disease. There are a few things that happen with RBD:

  • Usually when we sleep, the body shuts down our muscle movement during REM sleep so that we can’t act out our dreams.
  • In people with RBD, this shut-down doesn’t happen.
  • In this case, people have dreams that are very vivid and violent, compelling them to talk, punch, kick, scream, and even jump out of bed.
  • Interestingly, RBD is usually seen in middle-aged to elderly people, and is more likely to happen in men than in women.

In addition to being a possible early sign of Parkinson’s, RBD prevents people from getting restful sleep, mostly because they are so active during their dreams. Either way, it is important to keep studying this REM sleep disorder and other sleep disorders. The long-term dangers are too scary to ignore.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.