It is important to seek medical help for sleep-related health issues because such issues have been linked to illnesses down the line, a sleep specialist says.
Kaohsiung Medical University Sleep Center doctor Hsu Chung-yao (徐崇堯) cited the case of a 60-year-old man who became violent during sleep, attacking his wife while dreaming.
The man tore apart a wardrobe, bent a metal rod and stood as if he was ready to attack his wife, forcing his children to physically restrain him, Hsu said.
Tests showed the man suffers from rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder (RBD), which could make him susceptible to various diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, multiple system atrophy or other degenerative diseases in the coming years.
About 40 to 50 percent of RBD sufferers will develop a degenerative disease within 10 years of the onset of RBD, Hsu said.
RBD is a serious, yet still little-known illness that affects normal sleep, adding that research at foreign institutions has shown that up to 50 percent of RBD patients are likely to develop other degenerative mental illnesses.
Hsu said the center is working with 250 RBD patients, two-thirds of which are male, and 40 percent of which have developed degenerative illnesses.
The condition appears in men over 50 and manifests during REM sleep (when dreams occur) and results in patients acting out the scenes in their dreams.
Usually these are unpleasant dreams and will cause patients to yell, punch or kick those around them or fall, and when they wake up they are in a state of shock, Hsu said.
Chang Yang-pei (張揚沛), a physician in the university’s Department of Neurology, said that RBD most likely develops due to pathological changes in the bridge that connects the brain to the brain stem.
Conditions such as Parkinson’s occur when deterioration in the bridge spreads further up into the midbrain, Chang said, adding that such developments can be stopped if treatment begins early.
The best way to examine people who are experiencing sleep-related conditions is to examine them on numerous occasions, Chang said, including at least one overnight stay in the center.
The center’s comprehensive testing involves recording heart rate, breathing difficulties, frequency of snoring, and brain activity throughout the night, Chang said.
Hsu said patients are normally prescribed Rivotril and other medications.
Medication is successful in controlling 90 percent of the issues related to RBD such as sleep quality and energy levels, adding that treatment helps reduce brain deterioration and physical harm from patients falling out of bed, he said.
“Although there is still no medication that can eradicate RBD, through regular hospital visits, good dietary habits, a sanitary sleeping environment and regular exercise, brain deterioration can be much reduced,” Hsu said.
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