awake and still dreaming?

Hi Cary—

Have you ever watched a dog sleep and observed some of the nervous muscle twitches that often occur? The dog is dreaming, and in her dream, she is busy chasing a rabbit, going for a walk, or perhaps simply exploring new smells in her “dream neighborhood.” Like humans during human dreams, the dog believes she is awake. Also like humans, she is sending commands to her body to move in accordance with her perceived needs. The reason why we don’t see our four-legged friend arise and chase imaginary objects around the living room, however, or hear her bark, is because these commands for movement are intercepted at the base of the brainstem. During dreams, commands for movement generated by the brain are not passed on to the main motor neurons. But not all the commands for movement are suppressed. The leg and whisker twitches of the dog, cat, horse, cow, newborn, or any other warm-blooded creature (dreaming is a universal characteristic of mammalian sleep) reveal the dreaming mind within.

In humans, the area responsible for suppressing commands for movement during REM, or Dreaming sleep, is known as the reticular formation. If there is a failure of this area to block commands for movement, strange and curious “sleep” behaviors result. In mild cases of REM Behavior Disorder, dreamers occasionally sleep talk and jerk suddenly in response to their dream activity. In more severe cases, dreamers do actually arise from their beds and chase imaginary objects around the room. When this occurs, the dreamer often endangers him or her self, and bed-partner.

Mild cases of REM Behavior Disorder are not considered sufficiently disruptive of sleep to merit treatment with medication. Medicines are prescribed, however, for severe and chronic cases of RBD, where the dreamer
actually poses a threat to himself or experiences chronic restless and un-restorative sleep as a result.

If you think you or someone you know may suffer from RBD, schedule an appointment with your local sleep disorder center, and be sure to post us back your results!

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