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Most individuals experience a deep state of sleep, known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, in which dreams occur, the eyes move quickly, and brain activity temporarily paralyzes voluntary muscles. The brains of people who suffer from REM sleep disorder do not effectively signal the nightly paralysis of muscles, often resulting in spasms, thrashing of the legs and arms, and even acting out vivid dreams. Individuals pose a risk to themselves and others due to their violent movements, and many afflicted people experience physical symptoms from not getting enough rest. Doctors can help people with REM sleep disorder by carefully monitoring their symptoms and prescribing medication to help them sleep soundly throughout the night.
Doctors and researchers believe that REM activity comprises about 25 percent of a night's sleep, and is very important in allowing our bodies and minds to recuperate and prepare for another day. Individuals with REM sleep disorder, however, are frequently disturbed by sudden, often violent physical movements. While the condition can affect anyone, it is most common in adult males. People who suffer from Parkinson's disease, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, or insomnia are at the greatest risk of developing REM sleep disorders. Some individuals experience symptoms as side effects from antidepressants and other medications.
An individual with REM sleep disorder often tenses up during what should be a very relaxed sleeping state. He or she may begin to move around, kick, punch, or twitch suddenly as their bodies respond to dreams. Many people with REM sleep disorder frequently experience violent dreams and night terrors, in which running, fighting, and screaming are physically acted out in bed. They can easily injure themselves or their partners with no recollection of events the morning after an incident.
A person who suffers from the disorder can usually find relief by visiting a trained physician, who can conduct tests to make a diagnosis and prescribe appropriate medications. Many patients are required to sleep in a hospital or research center, where their bodies and brain activity are monitored and recorded by sophisticated clinical equipment. Physicians interpret data from sleep studies to diagnose REM sleep disorder and consider treatment options. The most common and most effective treatment for the disorder is an anti-anxiety medication known as clonazepam, which immediately relieves symptoms and allows patients to experience normal REM sleep.
Symptoms of REM sleep disorder are likely to return if patients go off of their medications. Therefore, it is essential for sufferers to closely follow doctors' orders to prevent recurring episodes. Patients with underlying medical problems, such as Parkinson's disease, may need to take other medications or engage in further treatment to prevent sleeping problems.