One of the country’s leading sleep experts has just released a book about people who act out their worst nightmares night after night.
Though it may sound like the stuff of a suspense novel, you won’t find this 600-page tome on the fiction shelf. Published by Springer Books and written by Minneapolis psychiatrist Dr. Schenck (along with other top sleep researchers), Rapid Eye-Movement Behavior Disorders is the first textbook of its kind, and is chock-full of the sorts of sleep disorder cases that most of us can only, well, dream about.
That’s because the book deals with REM sleep disorders, a class of disturbances that occur entirely during REM sleep, the cycle characterized by darting eyes, vivid dreams, and relaxed muscles. While most of us enjoy deep, restorative slumber during this phase, a small percentage experience difficulties such as nightmare disorder (in which sleepers experience an unusual number of bad dreams) and sleep paralysis.
To learn more about the book, and REM sleep disorders themselves, I spoke with Dr. Schenck, who’s been studying the oddities of slumber since 1982. In our conversation, he described the experience that led him to study these specific disorders in the first place, a case in which a patient with “violent moving nightmares” woke up every morning with self-inflicted injuries:
We discovered that his muscle jerks, leg kicks, and punches originated from REM sleep, when the muscles should be paralyzed. This defining feature was compromised, allowing him to act out his dreams.
Sleeping by the Book
Now you might be thinking, I’ve never heard of REM sleep disorders. Why is a textbook about them so important? Well, according to Dr. Schenck, REM disturbances are more than just a nighttime nuisance. They can be a symptom or predictor of other conditions, such as narcolepsy and Parkinson’s disease.
He also asserts that REM sleep disorders aren’t all that rare: “A recent study found a more than 1% prevalence in the general population. So the disorder is quite common — and just as common as schizophrenia.”
While it’s clear the textbook is intended for a specific audience, recent history shows that readers are hungry for books about sleep. Titles such as a Why We Sleep, The Sleep Solution, and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child have not only ascended bestseller lists in the past few years, but have become popular resources for many sleep-deprived folks.
But these titles are more than just guides to help us catch a few more Zzz’s — they reflect the recent surge of interest in sleep, and the increasing understanding of its importance in our lives.