Sleep is one of the most important, yet often overlooked, aspects of our health. Most Americans, 65%, think that sleep contributes to next-day effectiveness. However, only 10% of us prioritize getting a good night’s sleep.
Things like REM sleep disorder can further complicate some people’s ability to get good rest. Read on to learn what REM sleep disorder is, how to spot it, and how to know when to get professional help.
The Science of Sleep
Sleep is an essential function that allows our bodies to regenerate and recharge. Ideally, adults are able to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep that leaves them feeling refreshed. Getting good quality sleep helps our brains and our bodies operate at maximum efficiency.
Our sleep cycles are divided into two main stages: N-REM and REM sleep. N-REM stands for non-rapid eye movement, whereas REM is rapid eye movement. There are three stages of N-REM sleep.
Stage one is the transition from waking to sleeping. Your heartbeat, breathing patterns, and eye movements all begin to slow down here as your body prepares for rest.
Stage two takes us a bit deeper. Muscles begin to relax, eye movements will stop entirely, and our body temperature will drop. This is typically the longest stage in the sleep cycle.
Stage three plays a role in helping you feel refreshed the next day. This is the deepest of the N-REM sleep levels. Your heart rate, breathing, and muscles will be the most relaxed at this stage.
Then comes REM sleep and things start to pick back up. Your eyes will begin to move rapidly (hence REM), your heart rate and breath will quicken, and your muscles will be temporarily paralyzed so you can dream without moving.
During our sleep cycle, 20-25% of it is REM sleep, which means that REM sleep disorder can have serious negative consequences.
What Is REM Sleep Disorder?
REM sleep is the deepest level of sleep. It’s here where dreams typically occur.
Usually, our bodies slip into a kind of temporary sleep paralysis to keep us from physically moving in this stage. Though the body is temporarily paralyzed, the brain is still very active.
Dreams can be very active during REM sleep, so the paralysis helps to keep us from acting them out. Those who have REM sleep disorder don’t slip into temporary muscle paralysis. Instead, their bodies will act out their dreams, including but not limited to shouting, talking, grabbing, flailing, or jumping.
This may sound harmless enough, but consider whoever is lucky enough to sleep next to you. They may not find it so harmless. Physically acting out your dreams may end up hurting you or someone else.
The good news is, this disorder is actually quite rare, occurring in just one percent of the population. However, some populations are more at risk than others, and the effects can get worse over time.
What Causes REM Sleep Disorder?
Science isn’t exactly sure about the root cause of REM sleep disorder. Although we do know that the disorder often coexists with other neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s Disease, Lewey body dementia, and narcolepsy.
In many cases, REM sleep disorder will present and other neurological issues will follow in a matter of years.
One study found that 38% of men 50 and older who had REM sleep disorder eventually developed Parkinson’s Disease or other neurological conditions. These findings have been corroborated across studies that show similar patterns, particularly in males.
Other cases show that alcohol withdrawal and a wide array of antidepressants can also bring on REM sleep disorder.
So those most at risk include men 50 and older, people taking anti-depressants or recovering from alcohol abuse, and those who have other neurological conditions.
Signs of REM Sleep Disorder
In order to accurately diagnose any kind of sleep disorder, you should get in touch with a sleep specialist.
Very generally speaking, if you have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, you act out your dreams, have sleep apnea, or existing neurological conditions, it’s a good idea to pursue professional help.
Your doctor may ask you to keep a sleep journal or participate in a sleep study to help better understand your specific condition.
The top things to look out for when diagnosing REM sleep disorder signs are as follows:
- You remember the dream you were having when you awaken from an episode.
- Now, you are dangerously active while asleep, punching, hitting, or generally disrupting things or your sleep partner.
- You make loud noises while sleeping.
How Is REM Sleep Disorder Treated?
In many cases, a REM sleep disorder can be effectively managed with medication. Clonazepam (Klonopin) is one of the more frequently prescribed for sleep disorders. There are, however, many people who are not suited to benzodiazepines for a variety of reasons.
In today’s world, that presents no problem. There are many over-the-counter sleep aids that are natural and non-habit forming. Many people have found a good night’s sleep easier to come by with sleep supplements, and they recommend Sugarbear as one of the best.
If you have underlying conditions or take other medications on a regular basis, it’s best to consult your primary care doctor before adding anything new to the mix.
Most likely, there will be no problem, but your PCP should be notified that you aren’t sleeping well and are seeking holistic solutions. They may even have excellent recommendations or alternative perspectives for you.
Get Good Sleep Tonight
If you find yourself among the higher-risk populations or are already struggling with the REM sleep disorder, we hope you have a better idea of what you can do to help yourself.
Remember that although REM sleep disorder seems to only affect a small percentage of the population, we don’t fully understand it. Any disturbances that keep you from getting a good night’s sleep are worth following upon.
Fortunately, the science of sleep is an ever-expanding field of research. We are learning more every day, which means that you are likely to find a treatment that works best for your unique situation.
Make sure to check out the rest of our content for other useful life hacks across the board.