Violent sleep may be related to REM behavior disorder, a neurological parasomnia that affects about .5 percent of the population. This number may not be completely accurate due to misdiagnosis or lack of reporting on the part of the patient.
Defining Violent Sleep
Violent sleep is exactly what it sounds like, a person acting out violently while in a sleep state. Some patients who describe their experiences describe vivid dreaming states and not necessarily nightmarish ones, where they are very physically active. That physical activity is in direct correlation to the dreaming state.
In one case, described in Discover Magazine, a 67-year-old man described vivid dreams and physical lashing out he experienced. In some cases, he struck his wife, in others he flailed hitting walls and landing on the floor. His dreams were of playing baseball and other physical exertions, rarely if ever, were his dreams nightmares. When he and his wife described their condition to the physician, he sent the man for a sleep study.
The diagnosis was REM sleep behavior disorder, this is a very distinctive, neurological sleep disorder that can cause violent sleep. The reasons why it happens are unknown and while there is a treatment, there is no cure for it. During traditional REM sleep, the body goes into a state of atonia, this means the body doesn't move except for the eyes. This rapid eye movement (similar to that experienced while "watching" increased activity) is where this stage of sleep gets the name.
In REM sleep behavior disorder, the body does not enter atonia when going into REM sleep. This means when a person with this violent sleep disorder reach out in their dream, they reach out physically. When they kick or run, they can thrash and flail for real. The physical body responds to the dreaming mind.
Treating Violent Sleep
Because patients with REM sleep behavior disorder can be a physical danger to themselves and their bed partners, treatment is advisable. It is not atypical for someone with this violent sleep disorder to wake up with bruises, cuts, scrapes and to see similar marks on the person who shared their bed.
Like other sleep disorders, a monitored sleep study is required. If a patient is diagnosed with REM sleep behavior disorder, the condition can be treated with a regimen of clonazepam. Clonazepam. Is a benzodiazepine derivative with anticonvulsant and muscle relaxant properties that can allow patients who experience violent sleep episodes a restful, safe night for both the patient and his or her partner.
If you or your partner is experience violent sleep episodes, you should consult a physician about a sleep study and a specific type of test called a polysonagram. This test will allow the doctors to determine if your body is experiencing atonia while in REM sleep or not.
Symptoms of Violent Sleep
According to the Mayo Clinic, REM sleep behavior disorder can be misdiagnosed, but patients who experience this disorder can cause great physical harm to themselves or their partner while in an "episode" including choking, striking or slapping their partner or inanimate objects while yelling or cursing. Most often, the patient will wake up with no memory of hitting the other person or wall, but remembering vividly what happened in their dream.
If left untreated, the patient can be a danger to themselves and to their partner. Because the condition is neurological, it requires medical intervention and may require psychiatric counseling for both the patient and the patient's sleep partner. Do not ignore symptoms of this disorder. If your partner or you are striking out and experiencing a pattern of violent sleep, you should consult a physician immediately.