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New study identified risk factors for violent sleep disorder

Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder is a disruptive, and sometimes violent, sleep disorder that can cause a person to kick, yell, and even cause harm to themselves or a partner. A new study from the American Academy of Neurology has identified several risk factors that may encourage REM sleep behavior disorder.

For those who are not inflicted with the disorder, REM sleep, or the dream state, is a time when the brain usually prevents muscles from moving. However, those with the disorder experience a disruption in that brain signal and can act out or react to events occurring in their dreams.

In their study, published December 26th in Neurology, researchers found that antidepressants and/or being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety can increase one’s risk for developing REM sleep behavior disorder.

“While much is still unknown about REM sleep behavior disorder, it can be caused by medications or it may be an early sign of another neurologic condition like Parkinson’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies or multiple system atrophy,” said the study’s author and member of the American Academy of Neurology, Ronald Postuma, MD, MSc, of McGill University in Montreal, Canada. “Identifying lifestyle and personal risk factors linked to this sleep disorder may lead to finding ways to reduce the chances of developing it.”

Out of an initial 30,097 participants (96% of whom were white), the team found 958 people, or 3.2%, with possible REM sleep behavior disorder, excluding participants with Parkinson’s disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or sleep apnea, after having the group fill out an initial questionnaire. Researchers discovered that those with the disorder were 2.5 times more likely to be treating depression with antidepressants than those not affected by the disorder.

Furthermore, people with the disorder were 2.5 times more likely to suffer from PTSD, 2 times more likely to have a mental illness, and 1.5 times more likely to have psychological distress. Plus, men were 2 times more likely to experience REM sleep behavior disorder than women. And those affected were 25% more likely to be moderate heavy drinkers, and had slightly less education and a lower income than those without the disorder.

“Our research does not show that these risk factors cause REM sleep behavior disorder, it only shows they are linked,” said Postuma. “Our hope is that our findings will help guide future research, especially because REM sleep behavior disorder is such a strong sign of future neurodegenerative disease. The more we understand about REM sleep behavior disorder, the better positioned we will be to eventually prevent neurologic conditions like Parkinson’s disease.”

By Olivia Harvey, Staff Writer

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