What Is REM Sleep Behavior Disorder? – Are You A Dream Actor?

Before answering this question: What is rem sleep behavior disorder?

You should first answer these questions:

  1. Have you, your partner, or roommate ever acted out what was portrayed in your dreams?
  2. Do you, your partner, or your roommate unintentionally cause harm to yourself or others through leaping, kicking, grabbing or flailing?
  3. Has anybody ever witnessed you displaying complex behavior such as leaping out of bed or running around a room?
  4. Have you ever shouted, yelled or screamed while asleep?
  5. Do you talk in your sleep?

If your answer was yes to any of the questions above. You could potentially have a sleep disorder known as “REM Sleep Behavior Disorder.”

Let us discover what makes a person become a nocturnal actor.

what is rem sleep behavior disorder?

What Is REM Sleep Behavior Disorder?

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder falls under the parainsomnia category of sleep disorders. To comprehend exactly what this sleep disorder is, we first need to look at the sleep stages.

Throughout the night your brain cycles through various stages of sleep and the one sleep stage that most people are familiar with is the REM or rapid eye movement sleep stage.

This sleep stage typically happens throughout the second half of the night. You will normally spend around 20 percent of the night in this stage and will pass through the other various stages throughout the night.

Normal sleep is composed of a series of various REM dream episodes. These dreams happen every 1 1/2 to 2 hours each night. This often leads to a RSBD episode to first emerge a minimum of 1 1/2 hours after going to sleep.

Dream banner.

It is possible that the sleep episodes can last until you wake up in the morning. RSBD episodes can emerge as many as four times in one night. However, there are other cases where the episodes only occur one time per week or month.

You typically will dream during this sleep stage and the majority of time your body will become immobilized in order to prevent you from harming yourself through involuntary movements while you are sleeping.

However, there are times when that immobility is not as effective as it should be, which sometimes happens during REM sleep behavior disorder.

When you normal transitioning into the REM sleep throughout the night, there is a chance that you will display behavior which are connected to your dreams.

This is especially apparent if the behavior is volatile, is very action orientated or is noticeable to everybody else that is present.

Causes And Symptoms Of REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

Everytime that you move into the REM sleep stage, there are pathways of nerves located in your brain that restrain your muscles from moving. This in turn generates restraint for the length of the sleep stage.

However, there are instances where the nerve pathways do not work as they should for those who have RSBD, so they do not experience the restraint as other people do.

The primary symptoms of RSBD include:

Boxing man.
Left jab!
  1. Reoccurring episodes of dreams being acted out. These episodes can include movements such as flailing, kicking, jerking, punching, or springing out of bed and other potentially hazardous movements. Frequently, the individual will start with a twitching or flailing movement which is then followed up by a more dramatic and hostile movement.
  2. Having sleep activities that may result in harm to themselves or others around them.
  3. Creating loud noises such as swearing, shouting, or screaming. These noises are linked to the frightening dreams they are experiencing.
  4. In the event that you wake from the RBSD episode, you should be able to recall the plot of the dream and not feel disorientated. The dreams frequently entail terrifying scenes such as being assaulted or hunted down. It is possible that you will recall the dream for an extended period of time after the event.

Diagnosis and Other Risk Factors

It is very enticing to perform a self diagnosis with sleep disorders. There are instances when it can feel clear that what you have experienced is precisely the same as the medical definition of another sleep disorder or another condition.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder is easily mistaken with other sleep disorders and there are some symptoms that can be triggered by other medical conditions. A medical professional or sleep specialist will need to eliminate any other potential causes for the behaviors that include:

  1. Nocturnal seizures.
  2. Psychological problems such panic attacks.
  3. Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
  4. Confusional Arousals.
  5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  6. Restless Leg Syndrome.
  7. Sleep Walking.
  8. Night Terrors.
  9. Twitching because of hypnic jerks.
Infantry soldiers moving through desert.
Related to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Other Risk Factors

This sleep disorder happens a lot more in men and can happen at any point in a person’s life. However, this sleep disorder most often appears in men 50 years of age and older. The elderly have this sleep disorder appear in them as well.

RBSD does not happen frequently in children and women and fewer than one percent of people possess the sleep disorder.

It is frequently seen more in those who have possessed some neurological disorder. There is a higher chance for RSBD to happen for those who have these two conditions:

  1. Multiple System Atrophy (90% chance of RSDB happening)
  2. Parkinson’s Disease (33% chance of RSDB happening)

The other risk factors that strengthen the intensity of REM sleep are:

  1. Sleep Deprivation.
  2. Strokes.
  3. Tumors located in the brainstem.
  4. Taking certain types of medication.
  5. Drugs and alcohol.
  6. Withdrawal from alcohol.

This is a sleep disorder that can worsen over time if left unchecked. This can be hazardous for you, your partner, or your roommate.

RSBD is also associated with other medical issues. You should consult a medical professional if you presume that you potentially have the sleep disorder.

A medical professional would inquire you about your medical history in order to rule out and see if you display the symptoms for RSBD. Your family history will provide very important details.

The medical professional should perform a full exam that includes a neurological exam. There is a chance that they will ask you to complete what is known as a sleep diary.

This diary will record that progress you have made before and after the treatment. The doctor will also ask you to rate your sleep using the “Epworth Sleepiness Scale”. This scale is used to display how your sleep is impacting your everyday life.

Overnight Studies

Inform your doctor if you previously had any other sleep disorder. There is the chance that you might need to seek out a neurologist. Tests can be run if your medical exam displays something out of the ordinary.

Those with RSBD have a higher risk for developing other sleep disorders. As a result, a medical professional will most likely have you participate in an overnight study.

This overnight study is referred to as a “polysomnogram”. The study will chart your heart rate, brain wave activity, and your breathing patterns while you are asleep. Movement of your arms and legs will also be recorded.

The sleep study will also reveal other disorders that connected to your sleep issues. These sleep disorders can include periodic limb movement disorder and sleep apnea.

Top sleep studies will document your sleep on a video for you to observe at a later time.

Polysomnogram diagram.
An example of a polysomnogram graph.

If you seek more scientific knowledge as to how a polysomnogram sleep study is imperative to diagnosing RSBD. Take a look at this research report written by Boeve in 2010.

This report also contains detailed theories that are connected to the brain activities that are responsible for the lack of paralysis in a person’s mind.

However, not everyone has access to a sleep center which can make obtaining a diagnosis rather difficult.

Yet, in the event that you do have access to healthcare, then it is vital that a medical professional presumes that you might have RSBD.

Lastly, keep in the mind that the majority of people will occasionally display some abnormal behaviors when they are asleep. Prior to drawing any conclusions that you have RSBD, it is important to recall that the behaviors need to occur frequently.

Treatment Options

The good news is that there are treatment options available for RSBD, which are known to be effective. Medical professionals will typically prescribe a medication known as “Clonazepam”.

Melatonin supplements have also been discovered to reduce the symptoms of this sleep disorder. Your doctor will also prescribe other medication to you if the other ones were not successful.

Along with taking the medication, these are actions that you can take in order to minimize the chances of injury:

  1. Some individuals will wear some form of padding on their hands or sleep in a sleep sleeping bag.
  2. Install raised sides on your bed.
  3. Place a padded mattress or other padded surface on the floor adjacent to and in front of your bed.
  4. Ensure that your mirrors or windows are either shielded or placed a far distance from your bed.
  5. Make sure that there are no breakable objects such as glass, ceramic, or porcelain around your bed.
  6. Remove any object that have sharp corners.
  7. Remove all sharp objects that are close to your bed.
  8. Remove any sources of heat/fire such as matches and lighters.
  9. If needed to, you and your partner can sleep in separate beds.
Best not to have these close to your bed.

In addition to the actions listed above, these steps will help you decrease the episodes:

  • Take care of any sleep disorders that you might have.
  • Refrain from using recreational drugs and consuming alcohol.
  • Do not let yourself become overly exhausted.
  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule.

Dealing With Other People

You might feel mortified when you have a new partner or if you share a room or home with family and friends. You can speak to your doctor about this matter and they can possibly arrange counseling.

They will help you discover a plan of action that will simultaneously deal with the symptoms and how they impact you.

The best action to take is to be truthful about the sleep disorder. Communicate to those who may hear or observe you behaving in a strange manner and work alongside them in order to minimize the risk of injury and irritation to others.

Relation To Neurodegenerative Disorders

Research has revealed that (Mayoclinic in 2012) there is a potential relation between RSBD and confirmed neurodegenerative disorders. Examples of these disorders are Lewy body disease, parkinson’s disease, and mild cognitive impairment.

Admittedly, this knowledge can cause concern for others. It is important to keep in mind though that not everybody who possesses RSBD will develop a neurodegenerative disorder at a later point in their life.

Please do not be alarmed if you are reading this because you might have or already have RSBD.

Alarm system.

This research reveals that if RSBD is related to any of these disorders, it will frequently happen years or decades prior to the other disorders developing. The important action to take is to speak to your doctor about your symptoms and worries early before the disorders have a chance to develop.

If you have been diagnosed with this sleep disorder, your doctor will most likely record any signs of the disorder.

If a sign does arise in your later years, you can handle it early in the process.

Final Thoughts

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder can cause people to become actors of their own dreams. Many strange behaviors can arise as a result of this sleep disorder.

Some of the behaviors can be dangerous and other behaviors can be quite amusing. By taking the necessary actions, you or somebody else can help combat this sleep disorder in an organized manner.

What is your experience with this sleep disorder?

What types of behaviors you have exhibited?

Is there anything that you have done differently from the suggestions located above?

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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10 Comments on “What Is REM Sleep Behavior Disorder? – Are You A Dream Actor?”

  1. Hello Julius,

    Anytime and I am glad that I could educate your about RSBD. This is an uncommon sleep disorder that I found interesting and wanted to share this knowledge with others. I agree some of the behaviors that can be displayed during an episode of RSBD can be frightening to not only the person who acts out their dreams, but also to all of those who are witnessing as well. Having a full stomach while asleep and the location where you are sleeping asleep could be factors that trigger an episode. Everybody is different and in some cases people can show some unusual symptoms. One of the best courses of action to take is to visit a medical professional to have them rule out the potential causes. Then again this might not always be necessary in every case. 

    Best regards,
    Kenny Tang

  2. Hello Shera,

    Yes, you make a good point. RSBD is a very rare sleep disorder and it is not as common as some other sleep disorders. You will hear more about snoring and sleep apnea as opposed to this sleep disorder. There are number of different why RSBD affects more men than women and children. This can be due to certain degenerative neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and other risk factors such as strokes and sleep depravation. It is not 100% known why men have experience this sleep disorder more than women. It could very well be a natural inclination or it can be caused by certain activities that a person has participated in over a period of time such as consuming alcohol or taking certain types of medication.

    Best regards,
    Kenny Tang

  3. Hello Fyre,

    That is very interesting that you are a chronic lucid dreamer. Lucid dreaming is a topic that I will definitely expand more upon. Waking up with injuries is something that I never heard of before. That raises some very intriguing questions. PTSD is one of the risk factors that can trigger an episode of REM Sleep Behavior Disorder to happen. That could be the case. That is great to hear that you have made major changes to remedy the wounds. I encourage others to implement healthy habits rather than taking medication first. The latter route should be a last resort. I believe that dreaming practices are a great form of treatment. I am also glad that you were able to control your dreams. I believe that many people can control the outcomes of their dreams so that they work much more in their favor. If you are talking in your sleep and want to learn more about nightmares. The good news is that I have written articles on both of these topics.

    What Is Sleep Talking? – Having A One Sided Conversation?

    Nightmare vs Night Terror – Do You Experience Scary Moments at Night?

    Best regards,
    Kenny Tang

  4. Hello Sondra,

    Your welcome and I appreciate your concern for my wellbeing. All is well. The good news is that I only had acute insomnia rather than chronic insomnia. There was a period of time when I had a difficult time sleeping at night. The restless nights that I have experienced caused some areas of my health to be out of order such as having high blood pressure. I later discovered that my acute insomnia was primarily caused by a combination of bad eating habits, stress and not maintaining a consistent sleep schedule. Since then, I have made major changes to improve these bad habits and I sleep significantly better now. That is excellent that you have not experienced REM Sleep Behavior Disorder. That is very interesting that you can remember the details of your dream. In some cases, dreams are an indicator of what is currently happening in your life or what will happen in the future.

    Best regards,
    Kenny Tang

  5. Hello Niesha, 

    Yes, you have the right idea. There is usually a title for each different sleep disorder that a person will experience. I agree waking up to discover that you cannot move is rather scary. From your comment, it sounds like you might have experienced an episode of sleep paralysis I have written an article that explains this sleep disorder into further detail.

    Sleep Paralysis Facts – Hallucinations and Demons Immobilizing You?

    This article might help explain what you just experienced.

    Best regards,
    Kenny Tang

  6. A very interesting article worth reading. Thanks for writing this article and for letting me realize what rem sleep behavior disorder is. I previously went through this and hoping this will not happen again as it is indeed horrible and scary. I had frequently been experiencing RSBD (almost every night) when I was still 22 to 23 years old and then experienced back a year ago.Thank god that I have not had it again until this present day. I was told this usually happens when your stomach is full while asleep and some folks also told me it depends on the place where you are sleeping at, but I am not completely convinced.

    Thus, thanks really as I am now more convinced of the causes and symptoms of RSBD mentioned in this article. Good job and have a great day!


  7. This was a very interesting and informative article. I have never heard of RSBD before. I have encountered a few people that have exhibited some of these symptoms, but had no clue that this is what it could have been. 

    One question I do have is why does it affect men more so than women and children?

  8. I am a chronic lucid dreamer (I can wake myself up and tell myself that I am dreaming) happily but, there have been times in my life when I woke up with injuries that I did not have when I went to sleep. Mostly bruising but, one time I woke up with a sprained ankle which was more than a little disturbing.

    Since PTSD is unfortunately something that I have lived with. I always knew that could be associated.  When I showed signs that I returned to sleepwalking as well. I decided to make some major changes in my lifestyle to help heal old and new wounds. I have never hurt others in my sleep but, I do talk people’s ears off apparently. After reading your article, I am very grateful that I have come back to more balanced peaceful sleep schedule. I think learning to lucid dream even though I originally learned to combat nightmares. This made a huge difference when I was looking for therapy for myself that did not involve drugs.

    What do you think about dreaming practices to help heal? In extreme cases I know that cannot always be the only option but, in milder cases like mind it was truly a well-being saver! 

  9. Thank you for this very detailed review on the REM sleep behavior disorder.  First off, I am sorry to read that you have dealt with insomnia yourself. Although, I was concerned that I might have this problem. It sounds like I do not. I simply wake from dreams, that I prefer to call “action dreams”. I can remember the plot and details. I suppose I should be grateful that I am only tired afterwords. I am not getting out of bed or doing anything dangerous.  

    Regardless, your article was very informative. Thank you.   

  10. Wow, this is great. I knew there was a name for this yes! I definitely experienced this back when I was under a little more stress. I would fall to sleep and when it was time to wake up my mind did wake up, but not my entire body. I am telling  you it was the scariest thing I have ever encountered by far. I thought I was definitely a goner.

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