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REM Sleep Behavior Disorder in Children

It can be difficult to settle down at night, relax and get the sleep that you need, especially so with kids. If your child suffers from consistent sleep disturbances and troubles, it might be time to examine what is affecting their sleep.

Given the extensive effects of poor sleep for childhood development, getting quality sleep is an important part of your child’s health.

If your child suffers from REM sleep behavior disorder, it may disrupt his or her sleep quality and behavior. Here are a few management tips that can help you improve sleep for your child.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder and Parasomnias

REM sleep behavior disorder is a type of parasomnia. Parasomnias are a group of sleep disorders characterized by abnormal polysomnography. They involve unwanted events or experiences that occur while your child is asleep. Parasomias may include abnormal movements, behaviors, emotions, perceptions, or dreams. If your child suffers from parasomnia, he or she is likely to remain asleep during the event and often have no memory that it occurred. Parasomnias include sleep walking, sleep terrors, sleep eating disorder, sleep paralysis, and REM sleep behavior disorder.

What is REM Behavior Disorder?

Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder is a sleep disorder in which your child physically acts out vivid dreams with vocal sounds and sudden, often violent arm and leg movements during REM sleep, a stage in which you normally don’t move.

The onset of REM sleep behavior disorder is often sudden and episodes may occur occasionally or several times throughout the night. In severe cases, it may cause danger to the sleeping person or others they encounter. The good news is that REM sleep behavior disorder can usually be treated successfully.

To understand REM sleep disorder behavior disorder, it is important to know that it occurs during REM sleep. REM sleep occurs for roughly 90 minutes to two hours each night, at which time your muscles are temporarily paralyzed while your brain is actively dreaming.

With REM sleep disorder, instead of experiencing normal temporary paralysis of your arms and legs during REM sleep, your child physically acts out his or her dreams.

What are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of REM sleep disorder include:

  • Movement, such as kicking, punching, arm flailing, or jumping from the bed in response to action-filled or violent dreams
  • Noises, such as talking, laughing, shouting, or emotional outcries

How is REM Sleep Disorder Diagnosed?

If your child is suffering from REM sleep disorder, your doctor will review his or her medical history and symptoms. Tests may include:

  • Physical and neurological exam. A physical and neurological exam will evaluate your child’s REM sleep behavior disorder and other sleep disorders. REM sleep behavior disorder may have symptoms similar to other sleep disorders or it may coexist with other sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Nocturnal sleep study. Your doctor may conduct this exam to monitor and evaluate your child’s condition during an overnight study in a sleep laboratory. During this test, sensors monitor your child’s heart, lung and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements, and blood oxygen levels while he or she sleeps. Your doctor may also videotape your child’s behavior during REM sleep cycles.

What are the Treatment Options?

Medications. Depending on your child’s symptoms, there are several medications to treat REM sleep disorder. Low doses of clonazepam and benzodiazepine help suppress muscle activity and relax the body during sleep. Even if treated with these drugs long-term, it is extremely rare for a patient to develop dependence.

Home Remedies. In order to keep your child safe, you should ideally:

  • Either have the mattress on the floor, place cushions around the bed or place the bed against a wall.
  • If falling off the bed is a serious problem, consider installing padded bedrails.
  • If possible, have your child sleep on the ground floor away from the stairs.
  • Keep furniture and sharp objects away from the bed.
  • Remove any potentially dangerous objects in the room.

Schedule a Consultation

There are numerous factors that can contribute to inadequate and poor sleep in children – REM sleep behavior disorder is just one of them. If your child is suffering from inadequate sleep, it may be time to discuss a prevention and treatment plan with your doctor. Join our many satisfied patients, and schedule an appointment with Dr. Shukla today.

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