People can do the most annoying things when they are in the land of Nod. The snorting, mumbling and wriggling can send the most committed bedmate straight to the couch for relief. But what if the behavior is so fierce it exposes innocent bystanders to an unconscionable, potentially criminal, act.
Among the 81 official sleep disorders listed in The International Classification of Sleep Disorders are a group of conditions called parasomnias. In this group, physical activity normally reserved for wakefulness sneaks out during sleep cycle transitions causing sufferers to walk, talk, even eat in their sleep. While it may look like they are consciously aware, they are completely oblivious to the action because they are technically asleep.
Some parasomnias however cause the afflicted to unknowingly act out their dreams or perform sexual acts. The problem can be so severe that people resort to restraining themselves at night to protect their loved ones.
Here are 3 disturbing and potentially dangerous sleep disorders that may help to explain your housemate's peculiar night (and daytime) behavior.
REM Behavior Disorder
Over the course of the night a normal sleeper will go in and out of a sleep cycle at least a few times.. During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the brain shuts down certain signals: The sleeper's muscles are paralyzed and the brain goes into dreamland. In people with REM behavior disorder, muscles become activated and dreams breakthrough causing the afflicted to swear, scream, thrash and punch as they try to mimic what they are experiencing in their dreams.. Anyone in his or her wake is a potential victim.
Although it can occur at any time of life, it is more common in men over 60. Recently the disorder has sparked interest as it may foreshadow some neurodegenerative diseases. Studies have shown that many people with REM behavior disorder develop Parkinson’s disease or other form of dementia years later.
Sleep-related sexual behavior is most disconcerting. The activity can range from moaning, talking or shouting sexual innuendos, to performing sexual motions such as thrusting or masturbation.. But people with sexsomnia can also take it a step further by fondling or performing sexual acts that include intercourse, in sometimes brutal ways. Wives have reported that the sex occurring during this time departs from the usual and is often more aggressive.
And the recipient is not always their intimate partner. Anyone in the house, or in close proximity, even children, can be victimized.
Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS) is a rare neurological disorder that causes episodes of extreme sleepiness and unusual wakeful behaviors. It is sometimes referred to as Sleeping Beauty syndrome because people with KLS can spend more then 12 hours at a time sleeping. Episodes can last from days to weeks, and can last from months to years.
It primarily affects teen boys and may be triggered by a bacterial or viral infection, fever, alcohol or marijuana use, trauma or sleep deprivation.
People with KLS can wake up spontaneously to go to the bathroom or eat, but often they need to be aroused to do it. When they are awake or prevented from sleeping they can become irritable, aggressive and confused. Strange eating behaviors and cravings are not unusual. They can have voracious appetites eating considerably more than usual and consume and crave copious amounts of sugar and syrupy foods.
During wakefulness, a small minority of sufferers may experience an overwhelming need to masturbate, fondle or expose themselves and to make inappropriate sexual advances or shout obscenities.
Getting Help and Support for Sleep Disorders
Find the right doctor – Unusual sleep disorders are notoriously difficult to diagnose. They require the expertise of specialists who are knowledgeable about the nuances of each condition and who have specialized diagnostic tools at their disposal.
Get the right diagnosis – Many parasomnias have distinctive polysomnographic features, a measure of physiological changes that occur during sleep – electrical activity of the brain (EEG), eye movements, muscle movements and heart rate. This test is performed at a dedicated sleep study center by a sleep technician under the supervision of a sleep medicine specialist who may be a neurologist, psychiatrist or psychologist.
Practice good sleep hygiene – Since sleep deprivation can trigger episodes of parasomnia it makes sense to take an inventory of your sleep habits. Keep a regular sleep schedule going to bed and waking up the same time every day, even on weekends. Since incorrect use of certain prescription sleep medications can bring about parasomnias as a side effect, review all prescription and over-the-counter medications you are taking with your doctor.
Seek a treatment that's best for you – Treatment of parasomnias can be difficult but not impossible. It may take trials with different medications or a combination of medications to find the best one for you, especially if you have more then one sleep condition. Anticonvulsants, mood stabilizers, antidepressants and stimulants are all used. The hormone supplement melatonin may also be added to prescription therapy.
Stay away from drink and drug – Alcohol is a depressant that can help you fall asleep, but it ends up being counterproductive because it disrupts aspects of the sleep cycle. And since parasomnias are often triggered by alcohol and recreational drug abuse and use, treatment should include rehabilitation and psychotherapy.
Keep your environment safe – To minimize injury move breakables, tables and lamps away from the bedside and place a cushion next to bed to protect against falls.
To find a sleep disorders clinic near you visit the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.