This New Study Might Help Explain Why You Always Flail Around In Your Sleep

Have you ever slept in a bed with someone who told you that you kicked them in your sleep? Or, on the other hand, have you ever been the person having to dodge your sleep partner's fists and legs, as though they were dreaming of being in a heavyweight boxing match? Well, it's not particularly uncommon to be a limb-flailing bedfellow, but what it means when you punch in your sleep might involve more than you realize, according to new research — especially if it's a recurring habit.

So, first of all, when you flail around that much in your sleep on a regular basis, there's actually a name for it: It's called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder, and, according to the Mayo Clinic, it's when you "physically act out vivid, often unpleasant dreams with vocal sounds and sudden, often violent, arm and leg movements." This is also referred to as dream-enacting behavior, as per the medical center.

For the most part, during typical REM sleep (aka the type of sleep during which you dream), you don't move, the Mayo Clinic explains, as your brain is signaling your body to stay still. But apparently, this is totally different for people experiencing REM sleep behavior disorder.

The new research, published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, set out to take a closer at what might cause REM sleep behavior disorder, or if any lifestyle factors might be linked to the condition.

As per a EurekAlert! Science News press release, while the researchers had previously known that REM sleep behavior disorder is often connected to certain medications, as well as brain conditions like Parkinson's disease, they found that taking antidepressants, specifically, and/or having post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety, may also be considered risk factors for the disorder.

The researchers looked at data from over 30,000 older adults, who were surveyed about different aspects of their general well-being, including "lifestyle, behavior, social, economic and psychological factors," according to the study's press release. The study's volunteers were also asked if they had ever been told, or suspected themselves, that they act out their dreams while they sleep.

According to the study, after excluding those with Parkinson's, dementia, Alzheimer's, and/or sleep apnea (aka conditions that are known to be linked to the sleep disorder), nearly 1,000 participants (or about 3.2 percent) were identified as possibly having REM sleep behavior disorder.

After analyzing that data, the researchers found that those with REM sleep behavior disorder were over two and a half times as likely to be taking antidepressants for depression, according to the press release. People with the disorder were also two and a half times as likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder, and twice as likely to have a mental illness, the study found.

Study author Ronald Postuma, MD, MSc, of McGill University, said in a statement for the press release,

Identifying lifestyle and personal risk factors linked to this sleep disorder may lead to finding ways to reduce the chances of developing it.

The researchers found other potential links to this sleep disorder as well: The data showed that people with the condition were more likely to be men, and they were more likely to be moderate to heavy drinkers, too. It's important to note, though, that none of these factors are necessarily causes of REM sleep behavior disorder; they're just possible links.

Regardless of what might be causing the condition, if you or your partner tends to shove, kick, punch, or all of the above in their sleep on the reg, make time to talk about it and really address the issue. According to the Mayo Clinic, your doctor can help you establish a clear-cut diagnosis, and in terms of treatment, they might prescribe you a medication to help you sleep, help you enroll in a clinical sleep study, or it might be as simple as preparing your sleep space accordingly with padded flooring near your bed, and/or by removing sharp or dangerous objects from the bedroom.