A 65-year-old man in Greater Tainan who shouted, punched and kicked violently in his sleep every night scared his family to the point where they thought he was possessed by a ghost.
However, after several consultations with gods at local temples failed to cure the man, his family decided to take him to Tainan Municipal Hospital to see if the affliction might have a more earthly explanation.
Tsai Tsung-ju (蔡宗儒), a physician in the hospital’s Department of Internal Neurology, said on Monday that the man had Parkinson’s disease and that his symptoms were not unusual.
Tsai said the the man’s relatives thought he was simply having nightmares when he shouted and kicked in his sleep, but as time passed, his movements grew more violent and he eventually ended up punching and kicking his wife in the middle of the night.
The man’s family said he remembered nothing after waking up. During the day, he was often in a daze and moved slowly.
The abnormal behavior led the family to think the man was possessed by ghosts, Tsai said.
The doctor said that human sleep comprises four major cycles, each lasting about 90 minutes. One of the cycles consists of “rapid eye movement,” during which people experience the most vivid scenes of a dream, if they are having one.
Under normal circumstances, the brain will suppress muscle movements during this phase, leaving people motionless even though they are having an active dream. However, the brain of a person suffering from degeneration of the central nervous system is unable to suppress movement. Such patients — mostly male and aged above 65 — will “perform what they are dreaming,” he said.
The “dream performing” disorder is often a sign of many neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, Tsai said.
Taking Parkinson’s as an example, between 14 percent and 33 percent of patients will be affected with such sleep behavior disorders several years before developing movement-related symptoms, such as shaking, rigidity and slowness of movement, Tsai said.
However, there are medicines that can control and improve the sleep disorder, he said.