REM Behavior Disorder and Sleep

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disorder. Animals who have suffered lesions in the brain stem have exhibited symptoms similar to RBD. Cats with lesions affecting the part of the brain stem that involves the inhibition of locomotor activity will have motor activity during REM sleep: they will arch their backs, hiss and bare their teeth for no reason, while their brain waves register normal REM sleep.

"REM behavior disorder underscores the importance of basic science research in animals," says Mahowald, "because without the information obtained in basic science animal research, the disorder could never have been identified. Sleep is such a young field that we have the opportunity to take advantage of the fact that there is a close collaboration between basic science and clinicians."


Because a number of parasomnias may be confused with RBD, it is necessary to conduct formal sleep studies performed at sleep centers that are experienced in evaluating parasomnias in order to establish a diagnosis. In RBD, a single night of extensive monitoring of sleep, brain, and muscle activity will almost always reveal the lack of muscle paralysis during REM sleep, and it will also eliminate other causes of parasomnias.


Clonazepam, a benzodiazapine, curtails or eliminates the disorder about 90% of the time. The advantage of the medication is that people don't usually develop a tolerance for the drug, even over a period of years. When clonazepam doesn't work, some antidepressants or melatonin may reduce the violent behavior. However, it's a good idea to make the bedroom a safe environment, removing all sharp and breakable objects.


Drs. Schneck and Mahowald have conducted research indicating that 38% of 29 otherwise healthy patients with REM behavior disorder went on to develop a parkinsonian disorder, presumably Parkinson's disease (PD), a degenerative neurological disease characterized by tremors, rigidity, lack of movement or loss of spontaneous movement, and problems with walking or posture. Other studies have found associations between RBD and other neurodegenerative diseases related to Parkinson's. "We don't know why RBD and PD are linked," says Dr. Mahowald, "but there is an obvious relationship, as about 40% of individuals