New test to better detect sleep 'nightmare'

August 13, 2014, Flinders University
New test to better detect sleep ‘nightmare’
Flinders researchers have developed a system to better detect rapid eye movement behaviour disorder. Credit: Shutterstock.

"7, 8, stay up late 9, 10, never sleep again."

Fans of the 1984 horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street might remember this haunting parody of the children's nursery rhyme "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe".

Though the movie is pure fantasy, the idea of falling asleep can be a real nightmare for people who suffer from a condition known as rapid eye movement behaviour disorder (RBD).

RBD is characterised by abnormal, usually violent outbursts that occur when people try to physically act out their dreams during – potentially injuring themselves and their bed partners.

"During the stage of sleep, muscle tone drops off to a stage where the body is virtually paralysed," Flinders University sleep specialist Dr Richard Weeks said.

"But in people with RBD, muscle tone is abnormally maintained so they're actually able to move and act out their dreams," he said.

"Often the dreams are violent or threatening; the person is usually being chased, followed or attacked so when they mirror the dream's content, they might try to run and fall out of the bed, punch their bedside table or hit their partner.

"More than half of all patients with RBD report significant sleep-related injuries to themselves or their bed partner so it can have a major impact on quality of life – often their partner will end up sleeping in another room and being scared of falling asleep for their own safety."

About 90 per cent of people who suffer RBD are men aged over 60, although males and females of all ages can be affected, with occurrences varying from nightly to once every few months.

Statistics also show up to 40-80 per cent of people with RBD go on to develop neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease, Lewy body dementia and associated conditions.

But thanks to a grant from The Repat Foundation, Dr Weeks and Associate Professor Peter Catcheside, both based at the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health, have developed a new system to better diagnose the condition, with clinical trials now underway on existing patients.

Dr Weeks, a consultant psychiatrist at the Sleep Institute, said the main problem with the current diagnostic method is that it is largely subjective, based on the physician's assessment of muscle tone.

"The reporting sleep physician will look at the muscle tone during the REM stage of sleep and decide whether it's being abnormally maintained or not.

"We are developing new software that looks specifically at muscle tone in a way that we hope eliminates confounding factors that could interfere with the interpretation of the results.

"This provides a more robust and accurate way of analysing without relying on subjective analysis by the physician."

With the number of RBD cases on the rise, Dr Weeks said it is hoped the software will become part of a new standardised method for diagnosis.

"We are receiving more referrals and making more diagnoses due to an increasing awareness of the condition, sleep disorders and sleep services, and also because we have an ageing population.

"The good thing is that RBD is highly treatable so if we improve the diagnosis, we can offer effective treatments with a high success rate."

A case study on a patient with a severe form of RBD, led by Dr Weeks with Flinders researchers Dr Ching Li Chai-Coetzer and Professor Nick Antic, was published earlier this year in the Medical Journal of Australia. The research is available online here.

Explore further: Sleep disorder linked to brain disease

Related Stories

Sleep disorder linked to brain disease

April 22, 2014
Researchers at the University of Toronto say a sleep disorder that causes people to act out their dreams is the best current predictor of brain diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Potential cause of severe sleep disorder discovered, implications for Parkinson's disease

June 15, 2011
Researchers at the University of Toronto are the first to indentify a potential cause for a severe sleep disorder that has been closely linked to Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Sleep disturbances, common in Parkinson's disease, can be early indicator of disease onset

July 10, 2014
Up to 70% of Parkinson's disease (PD) patients experience sleep problems that negatively impact their quality of life. Some patients have disturbed sleep/wake patterns such as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, ...

REM sleep disorder doubles risk of mild cognitive impairment, Parkinson's

March 14, 2012
People with symptoms suggesting rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, or RBD, have twice the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or Parkinson's disease within four years of diagnosis with the sleep problem, ...

Recommended for you

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.