If you think you've got it bad because your bed partner snores, think again.
In an engrossing editorial about sleep violence, a man chronicles what it's like to commit violent acts in his sleep (granted, his didn't go much further than punching the headboard or acting like a defensive lineman). But sleep violence can be serious. And it's not something to joke about. It entails a spectrum of disorders, including:
For centuries, high-profile cases have involved sleep violence. If you strangle your wife to death in your sleep, should you be held 100 percent accountable? This has been a tricky subject for legal scholars.
Are there any risk factors? Certainly. Most patients with R.B.D. are males over 50 years of age.
Interestingly, scientists have discovered that people with R.B.D. develop lesions on a small portion of their brain stem that ordinarily inhibits physical movement during R.E.M. sleep. So while most people are "paralyzed" during sleep, people with R.B.D. are not, and can sleepwalk and do things with their bodies that you'd normally equate with being wide awake and fully conscious.
Other risk factors include:
The good news is we have a collection of drugs at our disposal to help people with serious R.B.D., which people in previous centuries did not (though they would lock people up and force them to sleep alone). Therapy can also work for some people.
The phenomenon has been the
subject of a television movie. After Kenneth Parks, an unemployed Canadian, murdered his mother-in-law in 1987, Hilary Swank filled the role of playing his wife in "The Sleepwalker Killing" (1997). Having no motive for the crime and a history of sleepwalking, Parks was acquitted by an Ontario jury. In another case in Scottsdale AZ, the man was found guilty.
If you or someone you know is prone to violent acts in their sleep, they should immediately see a sleep specialist to get help - this is a treatable disorder.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™
Follow Dr. Michael J. Breus on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thesleepdoctor