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Study reveals risk factors for rare sleep disorder
June 27th, 2012
05:13 PM ET

Study reveals risk factors for rare sleep disorder

If someone you know kicks and punches you while they are sleeping, it may be because they have something called REM sleep behavior disorder or RBD, an extremely rare sleep disorder that affects an estimated 0.5% of adults worldwide. 

Now researchers say they have identified some of the risk factors that contribute to someone getting RBD, which they believe can be a precursor to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's. Over half of people with RBD develop a neurodegenerative disease, according to the American Academy of Neurology.

When people without this disorder are in REM sleep (the short period of time when you actually dream), their muscles are usually in a state of paralysis (atonia), according to the Cleveland Clinic.   But people with RBD move their  body or limbs while dreaming. and they could be acting out what they are dreaming. People with RBD are in danger of harming sleep partners as they act out.


The new study, published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, identifies environmental risk factors for RBD, which include smoking, head injury, pesticide exposure, low education and farming.

What’s unique about the study is that it included data from 13 institutions in 10 countries, and included 347 cases of REM sleep behavior disorder and 347 control subjects matched by age and sex.  That makes it the largest study of RBD to date.

“Until now, we didn’t know much about the risk factors for this disorder, except that it was more common in men and in older people,” explained study author Dr. Ronald B. Postuma of McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, in a statement. “We wanted to investigate whether the risk factors for REM sleep behavior disorder were similar to those for Parkinson’s disease or dementia.”

“One of the most intriguing aspects of this work is the picture of similarities and differences among risk factors for RBD and Parkinson disease,” wrote Stanford University neurologists Drs. Shannon Sullivan and Christian Guilleminault and Dr. Carlos Schenck, a psychiatrist at the University of Minnesota, all authors of an editorial published in Neurology. “While pesticide exposure appears to be a risk factor for both disorders, smoking, for example, which is protective for PD, is a risk factor for RBD.”

The study authors suggest their findings open up new areas for research for RBD.

Sleep disorders and disturbances affect millions of Americans. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 25% to 30% of adults, teens and children are affected by sleep disorders which have been proven to contribute to disability, illness and even death.


soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. seun

    please check out this article I wrote about this new great app that makes it easier to go to bed.

    Sleep Bug, the Sleeping App that Rocks everyone including Babies to Sleep

    There are a lot of apps out there that claim to wake you up in the morning, and there are some apps out there that claim to help you go to bed at night. Sleep Bug is the only app out there that is available on four different platforms (iPhone, iPad, iPod, and windows phone 7 smartphones) that not only claim to help you fall asleep but ensures you will in a peaceful manner. This app is for grownups, teenagers, kids and most important of all, babies.
    If you an adult, chances are that you have a job that starts early in the morning. As a result, getting enough rest the night before is essential to prevent you from taking short naps at work, which could result in an overall decrease in your work output. Having this app will help you go to bed in a peaceful manner, and will have you up and refreshed the next morning. If you are a parent, you can recommend Sleep Bug to your children or love ones.
    We all love babies, and having one brings about the greatest feeling in the world, but their non stop crying can be a little irritating and can also make it harder to go to bed. Fortunately, Sleep Bug can also be used for babies. Mom and Dad can share a phone which has Sleep Bug installed, and their baby can use the other phone which also has Sleep Bug installed. Sleep Bug has a variety of sound options; each having its own list of variation. This creates an opening for trial and error to see which sound combination works best for the baby. If you want to peacefully go to sleep every night and wake up refreshed every single morning, then Sleep Bug is the App to have. You can learn more about the app and also download it from their official website- http://www.sleepbug.net.

    July 10, 2012 at 13:33 | Report abuse | Reply
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    October 2, 2012 at 22:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Mama Hayes

    My 26 year old son not only moves during his dreams, he often gets out of bed talking and acting out his dreams. He has never smoked, had a head injury or been exposed to pesticides. He is currently finishing up his last year in Nursing Program and only visited a farm once as a cub scout. I talk in my sleep and his father has been known to walk in his sleep as a child. Maybe there is just a genetic connection. However, our other two children do not walk or talk in their sleep.

    October 4, 2012 at 07:11 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.