The Dangerous Sleep Disorder That Makes People Act Out Their Dreams

New research has revealed some of the risk factors involved with a rare condition known as REM sleep behaviour disorder.

The potentially dangerous condition takes sleepwalking to a whole new level -- people who are affected have been known to jump out of windows, fight off imaginary intruders and endanger their sleeping partners.

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US Comedian Mike Birbiglia started experiencing REM behaviour disorder (RBD) when he was burning the candle at both ends, booking comedy gigs every night and travelling long distances.

"I would stand on my bed and try to fight flying jackals, and I had fallen off the bookshelf in my living room, which in my dream was an Olympic podium," Birbiglia told the Sleep Foundation.

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The comic even made a film about living with the condition called Sleepwalk With Me, that explains just how dangerous his nighttime slumber had become.

While dreaming that a guided missile was headed straight for his hotel room in Washington, Birbiglia jumped out of a second-floor window. Lucky to survive, he received 33 stitches in his legs and vowed to seek help from a sleep specialist.

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What Are The Risk Factors?

Researchers at McGill University in Montreal studied data collected from more than 30,000 Canadians between the ages of 45-85 in a new study published in the medical journal, Neurology. 

The participants -- who are part of the Canadian Longitudinal Study On Aging -- were all asked whether they'd been told, or suspected themselves, that they seemed to act out their dreams while asleep.

The study identified 958 potential cases of RBD and found that that risk factors included taking anti-depressants, having post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety, and being a moderate to heavy drinker.

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The research showed that men were more twice as likely to experience RBD and sufferers had slightly less education, "an average of 13.2 years of education compared to an average of 13.6 years for those without the disorder".

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"They also had lower income and were more likely to have smoked," the American Academy of Neurology wrote. 

The sleep study also found that living with RBD could be an early indicator of more serious neurological diseases.

“While much is still unknown about REM sleep behaviour 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 co-author Ronald Postuma, M.D. a neurology researcher at McGill University.

“Identifying lifestyle and personal risk factors linked to this sleep disorder may lead to finding ways to reduce the chances of developing it.”

Feature Image: The Science Of Sleep/Gaumount France.