Earlier this month, I shared new research about risk factors for REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, in which people kick or punch during sleep. Now there is more research that points – eventually – toward new treatments for REM Sleep Behavior Disorder.

We have known for a long time that during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when people are dreaming, the body essentially shuts down and cannot move at all. In people with REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, this temporarily paralysis does not happen. This makes people kick in their sleep or even get up and move around or get violent with their bed partners.

Now scientists at the University of Toronto have identified two brain chemicals that prevent people from moving in their sleep.

Understanding how these chemicals works means that new drugs may be possible that prevent narcolepsy and the extreme behaviors of REM Sleep Behavior Disorder. In addition to causing injuries to patients and their bed partners, REM Sleep Behavior Disorder is also an early indicator of Parkinson’s Disease. It is possible that this greater understanding of sleep-related brain chemistry may also lead to new treatment for Parkinson’s.

Working with rats, neuroscientists found that the neurotransmitters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glycine caused REM sleep paralysis by ‘switching off’ the specialized cells in the brain that allow muscles to be active. Researchers were able to prevent REM sleep paralysis by blocking brain receptors for both chemicals.

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