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Study identifies risk factors for so-called REM sleep disorder
Some people suffer from a so-called REM sleep disorder, which is associated with seemingly aggressive behavior such as screaming, kicking and beating while sleeping. In a recent study, a Canadian research team has now identified previously unknown risk factors for this particular form of sleep disorders.
"Taking antidepressants for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety diagnosed by doctors are risk factors for a disturbing and sometimes violent sleep disorder, also known as REM sleep disorder," study author Ronald Postuma and colleagues from McGill University in Montreal report. They have published their latest study results in the online edition of the specialist journal "Neurology".
What is REM sleep disorder?
REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) is the dream phase of sleep. “During normal REM sleep, your brain sends signals to prevent your muscles from moving, but these signals are disturbed in people with REM sleep disorders,” the experts explain. Those affected therefore show unusual behaviors in the course of their dreams: they roar, hit their arms or kick until they injure themselves or a sleeping partner.
Examined more than 30,000 people
So far, a lot is not known about the REM sleep disorder. So the risk factors are largely unclear. In the current studies, the researchers tried to shed light on this. For this purpose, 30,097 people with an average age of 63 years were examined. The researchers checked a variety of health factors and also asked about lifestyle, behavior, social, economic and psychological aspects. In the course of the investigations, they were able to identify 958 people (3.2 percent of the test subjects) with a possible REM sleep disorder. Participants with Parkinson's disease, dementia, Alzheimer's or sleep apnea were excluded.
Identified risk factors
Further evaluations showed that those affected reported more than two and a half times more often than subjects without sleep disorders that they were taking antidepressants to treat depression. They are also two and a half times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and twice as likely to have a mental illness and more than one and a half times more likely to have psychological problems, the researchers report.
Men affected more often than women
The study also showed that REM sleep disorders affect men twice as often as women. Alcohol consumption also seems to play a role. People with a possible REM sleep disorder were 25 percent more likely to drink moderate to heavy alcohol than people without a sleep disorder. In addition, those affected had a somewhat lower level of education, a lower income and were more likely to smoke, the study authors continued.
Basis for further research
However, the study cannot prove a clear causal connection between the risk factors and REM sleep disorder. "Our research does not show that these risk factors cause REM sleep disorder, it only shows that they are linked to it," said the study leader Postuma. However, the new findings could serve as the basis for future research and contribute to a better understanding of REM sleep disorder, the expert emphasizes. Since the REM sleep disorder is closely related to future neurodegenerative diseases, diseases like Parkinson's could possibly be prevented in a next step, the scientists hope. (fp)