The Dangers of REM Behaviour Disorder

Sleeping is one of the main ways that our body energizes and gets recharged. While sleeping, dreaming is normal, and sometimes dreams may feel real. While sleeping usually involves lying down, and a few twists and turns, some people often do more physical activities like walking, etc. It is called REM behaviour or RBD. It can be a harmful sleep disorder that may even increase the chances of life risk for the people affected by it.

What is REM behaviour disorder?

As per medical professionals, REM behaviour disorder or RBD is a type of sleep disorder that often compels the sleeping person to act involuntarily while in a deep sleep. Affected people may do physical activities like punching, kicking, hitting, grabbing things, etc. Some people even talk or yell or cry in sleep.

In people with a REM behaviour disorder, the brain deduces the dream as real, and the body may start moving involuntarily. It often happens when the affected person has a nightmare (like being attacked or any repetition of their traumatic childhood event in the dream) and they start to defend themselves or escape the situation.

Interestingly, that person may or may not remember their behaviour in their dreams after waking up. As people often tend to forget about their dreams after waking up, people suffering from REM sleep disorder may not remember anything.

Why does it happen?

It is a sleep disorder that happens when you are in the most active stage of sleep, also called the REM stage. It is the fifth stage, when our sleep is at its deepest stage, and dreams start to appear during this stage. During this stage, the skeletal muscles or body muscles Remain paralyzed so that the body doesn't move, and people can experience their dreams safely. This muscle paralysis is called muscle atonia.

People who suffer from REM behaviour disorder do not experience sleep atonia. Hence, their body or skeletal muscles do not get paralyzed during dreaming. Therefore, they end up moving their body while dreaming. Till now, researchers have not found why this happens in some people.

Dangers of REM behaviour disorder

Well, it may seem a harmful disease at first, but the REM behaviour disorder can harm the affected person and anyone who sleeps with them, like their spouse or partner. Since the affected person involuntarily moves their limbs or body, they don't have any control over the movements they are making. Hence, they may even injure their sleeping partners. As per a recent study, the chance of injuries to spouses due to REM sleep disorder is common in nearly 90% of patients. Besides that, they also have higher chances of injuring themselves also.

Not just physical injuries, REM behaviour disorder also cause the affected person to have physical trauma. People who suffer from this sleep disorder often recall their dreams. Hence they remain stressed about their activities during sleep. This, in turn, causes them to alienate themselves from their social circle, including their marital life. Such people also suffer from issues like anxiety, depression, etc.

What are the symptoms of REM behaviour disorder?

The usual symptoms of REM behaviour disorder include

  • Sudden movement, like kicking, punching, arm flailing or jumping out of bed while sleeping

  • Making noises while sleeping like babbling, yelling, talking, crying, swearing or shouting in sleep

  • Suddenly sitting up in bed while sleeping

  • Leaping in the bed

  • In The early stages of REM sleep disorder, affected people usually cannot REMember their activities during sleep. But as the disease progresses, they can REMember their dreams and even their actions after waking up.

  • Those with a REM sleep disorder may feel groggy after waking up. They also take time to feel refreshed after a full sleep of eight hours.

Types of REM behaviour disorder

There are two types of REM behaviour disorder −

Isolated or idiopathic REM behaviour disorder

Researchers theorize that it happens as the pons, the brainstem connected with our spinal cord, cannot initiate muscle atonia during sleep. It can occur due to many underlying causes, including damaged brain cells or damaged spinal cord, or damaged cells in the pons area etc.

Secondary or symptomatic REM behaviour disorder

Some people do not have enough of a brain chemical called orexin or hypocretin. It is a chemical that regulates human sleep, and its low level may lead to volatile sleep, which does not lead to muscle atonia.

How is REM behaviour disorder diagnosed?

Doctors use different methods to diagnose, including −

  • The doctor may talk with your roommate or spouse or partner, or family members to understand what you do during your sleep

  • Polysomnogram or PSG- The doctor will conduct a detailed sleep study that involves recording and checking your breathing rate, pulse rate and heart rate, oxygen flow, brain wave activity, eye movements, and muscle movements of the chin upper body limbs. If the test findings prove increased muscle activity during sleep, you may have RBD.

  • Some doctors may even talk with the patients to determine whether they recall their sleep movements.

How to cure this behavioural disorder?

REM behaviour disorder or RBD is treatable, and the patients need compassion alongside medical treatment. Usually, doctors administer benzodiazepine medicines or sleeping medicine like clonazepam to relieve the patient.

If you feel that you often move your limbs or talk in sleep or your partner or roommate has told you that you do such movements, it is better to visit a sleep specialist. Besides, if you recall your activities even after waking up, it is better to go to the doctor. Early diagnosis often leads to a faster cure.

Some people are also advised to take melatonin, the natural chemical that keeps the human sleep cycle regular.

Besides, doctors emphasize creating a safe place for the affected person while they sleep. For example, adding cushions in the beds, having a larger bed with ample space etc.


REM behaviour disorder or RBD is a sleep disorder that involves involuntary body movements while a person is in a deep sleep. Since it can harm the affected person and their closed ones, it is better to get it treated faster.

Updated on: 05-Apr-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started