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Anxiety Linked to Violent Sleep

A new study has found a list of risk factors for a violent sleep disorder.

REM sleep is the dream state of sleep. During normal REM sleep, your brain sends signals to prevent your muscles from moving. However, for people with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder, those signals are disrupted. Individuals with the disorder may act out violent or action-filled dreams by yelling, flailing their arms, punching or kicking, to the point of harming themselves or a sleep partner.  

The study, conducted in Canada, found that taking antidepressants for depression, having post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety diagnosed by a doctor are risk factors for a disruptive and sometimes violent sleep disorder called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder. The study also found men are more likely to have the 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 study author Ronald Postuma, MD 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.”

The study looked at 30,097 people with an average age of 63. Researchers screened participants for a variety of health conditions and asked about lifestyle, behavior, social, economic and psychological factors.

In addition, every participant was asked, “Have you ever been told, or suspected yourself, that you seem to act out your dreams while asleep?”

Researchers then identified 958 people, or 3.2 percent, with possible REM sleep behavior disorder, after excluding participants with Parkinson’s disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or sleep apnea.

Researchers found those with the disorder were over two-and-a-half times as likely to report taking antidepressants to treat depression, with 13 percent of those with the disorder taking them compared to 6 percent of those without the disorder. People with the disorder were also two-and-a-half times as likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder. They were twice as likely to have mental illness, and over one-and-a-half times as likely to have psychological distress.

Other findings were that men were twice as likely as women to have possible REM sleep behavior disorder.  Nearly 60 percent of those with the disorder were male.

“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.”

Source: News Release