Though science has made great strides toward the understanding of sleep disorders, there is still a considerable amount we know nothing about. Why do some people have so much trouble with their eight hour respite from reality? Why does this realm of shadows hold so many mysteries still despite the fact that we spend on average a third of our lives doing it?
During the course of our lifetimes we spend an average of six years actively dreaming during REM sleep. This REM sleep is very important to our mental well-being for reasons not fully understood. Without REM we become restless, lethargic, have slower cognitive functions, and eventually exhibit behaviors similar to someone suffering from schizophrenia. And as we have a full night’s sleep these symptoms go away. Unfortunately, getting that full night’s sleep is difficult for some, particularly those with a number of mysterious diseases.
Sleep walking, also known as somnambulism is one of the more mysterious and troubling forms of sleep disorder. In sleep walking, an individual is not restrained by the loss of function in their muscles while sleeping. They often function and behave as though they were awake, but can suddenly be jolted out and have no recollection of their episode.
In addition to sleep walking, there is another disorder called REM behavior disorder. REM behavior disorder should not be confused with sleep walking, as it is often more violent and far more rare. In REM behavior disorder, the subject will act out their dreams in a sometimes violent manner. A lack of understanding of this mysterious illness does not take away doctor’s ability to treat it. They often give the sufferers, themselves often also suffering from Parkinson’s disease, medication to relax their muscles and motor functions so their outbursts are at best cured and at least less powerful when they do awaken.
While the cause of these mysterious illnesses is largely unknown, there are things that are known about their treatments and how to deal with those suffering from them. It’s said waking a sleep walker can be dangerous, but sometimes their movements can themselves be dangerous. Falling is the most commonly associated injury for somnambulists. REM behavior disorder shouldn’t go unchecked as it can be dangerous both to the sleeper and those around him. There have been some accounts of unintentional killings as a result of REM behavior disorder, so the close monitoring of those asleep should seek medical advice and attention as soon as possible. And yet even as these diseases impact our society directly, we understand very little of how they actually work or where they come from.
Traditionally these diseases were thought to be directly related to the world of the unknown, with the spirits of the dead interacting with somnambulists as they approach a state similar to what was perceived as death. Parapsychologists suggest while there is potential for interaction with ghosts in this state, the actual cause of the disorders can also often be explained by medical means.