Sunday, October 30, 2011
The major difference between dreaming and acting while awake seems to be the physical paralysis that accompanies the dream state that stops us from us from acting out the dream. In some people this mechanism appears to be defective though. People that develop Parkinson's Disease or a form of dementia called Lewy Body disease, sometimes suffer from sleep disorders where they appear to be acting out their dreams long before the actual disease appears. These disturbed sleepers are usually unaware of their nighttime antics which can cause harm to their bed partners through punching and kicking. Violent nights that leave the sleeper oblivious can go on for up to 50 years before the Parkinson's or dementia reveals itself and occur in 60-80% of patients. My own father who I have blogged about often, would throw himself out of bed or hit my mother with force during his sleep for about 10 years before he received his diagnosis of Lewy Body. She would retreat to another room as an act of self-preservation on those nights where he was active, and complain to me that he was 'at it again.' Never once did either of them mention it to the doctor, and I didn't know there was a connection with brain disease until much later, when other symptoms had started to appear.
Now, the question of why this occurs in this at-risk population is a hot topic for research. One has to wonder whether the sleep disorder is cause or effect of the final disease. A quick review of the literature finds the jury out on the actual mechanism of the disorder but in the meantime, any regular violent night time behavior, particularly where the sleeper is unaware of the problem, warrants a check up at the very least.
Reference: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Scientists measure dream content for the first time: Dreams activate the brain in a similar way to real actions." ScienceDaily, 28 Oct. 2011. Web. 30 Oct. 2011.