Acting Out Your Dreams: REM Behavior Disorder

Submitted by saut-de-la-foi 
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Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep Behavior Disorder (that’s a mouthful).

There’s many odd things that people do in their sleep.

Some excessively snore, some sleepwalk (somnambulism), and some talk in their sleep.

When you sleep, you don’t just go to bed and get up without interruption: you sleep in stages– five, to be exact.

  • Stage 1 is when you first begin to fall asleep. Sometimes individuals report feelings of falling, which triggers hypnic myoclonia (sudden muscle contractions, usually in the limbs). Fairly easy to be aroused from sleep.
  • Stage 2 is light sleep, where muscles begin to relax, heart rate slows, and the body begins to fall into deep sleep.
  • Stage 3 and Stage 4 is delta wave sleep, or deep sleep. Difficult to arouse from sleep, and may feel groggy or disoriented immediately after.
  • REM stages usually start about 1.5 hours after you fall asleep. Paradoxical sleep. About 20-30% of the sleep cycle.

As is the case with any complicated process, sometimes our brains can glitch.

Today, we’ll focus on REM sleep and how a glitch during the REM phase of sleep can lead to a disorder.

REM sleep is also called “paradoxical sleep“, because both heightened brain activity and muscular immobility occur simultaneously.

Vivid dreaming occurs in this stage due to excited brain states, but when we dream, we are paralyzed and can’t move (probably for our own good). When we wake up during REM sleep, we are most likely to remember our dreams.


However, there is something called REM Behavior Disorder(RBD), a type of parasomnia (sleep disorder) in which this paralysis is nonexistent.

When individuals experience this loss of paralysis, they can actually act out their dreams while sleeping.

This can be anything from kicking, screaming, and rolling around in bed, leading to injuries to self and/or others, especially when the RBD individual begins to jump out of bed and move around.

Individuals with RBD can have up to four episodes a night, usually more concentrated towards the morning hours; although they are technically asleep, RBD individuals can be aware of surrounding stimuli, which can lead to sleep deprivation.

If woken up during the RBD episode, the recollection of the individual’s dream usually match the movements they were making during their episode.


No one knows exactly what causes RBD, but it has the highest occurebce in males starting from their 50’s; interestingly enough, there have even been documented cases of dogs diagnosed with RBD.

Some professionals have suggested a link with drinking and certain drugs, especially antidepressants, to RBD.

Others have pointed to degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s.


So, there you have it!

Another example of how complicated processes in our brains can glitch and cause a completely different phenomenon to occur. (Read Déjà vu: Brain Malfunction? here!)

Carey, S. (2001). “Dog with Rare Sleeping Disorder Sent Home After Unique Diagnosis at UF’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital”University of Florida

Gugger, JJ.; Wagner, ML. (Nov 2007). “Rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder.”. Ann Pharmacother 41 (11): 1833–41.doi:10.1345/aph.1H587

Olson, EJ et al. (2000). “Rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder: demographic, clinical and laboratory findings in 93 cases”. Brain 123: 331–39. doi:10.1093/brain/123.2.331

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