Every night when you go to sleep and enter into REM, you never know what scenario you will – unwittingly – be participating in: a sword fight with a three headed monster, a flight over the tree tops with Superman, or perhaps running for your life with Krusty the Clown hot on your heals. We are very active when we dream… so why is it that, with all the stunts and thrills of an action movie, we remain still and quiet in our beds?
Once we enter REM sleep, which is when dreaming takes place, our brains release a chemical to our skeletal muscles that paralyzes them so that we don’t get up and act out our dreams. It’s a nifty little, primordial safety mechanism that protects us, all warm blooded mammals, from harm and injury while we sleep.
When I was studying Dream Psychology, I learned about an experiment on cats where scientists had cut the nerve pathways that allow the brain to paralyze the cat”s skeletal muscles. Once these cat entered REM sleep, they did indeed get up and act out their dreams. I always wondered what that was like to watch. I’ve since seen videos of people, dogs and cats that have REM behavior disorder, which is a parasomnia where the dreamer acts out a violent or scary dream. While it is fascinating to watch, there is still a certain level of lethargy that is detectable and a certain creepiness to the animal’s or person’s movements. Plus it often takes a while for the dreamer to actually get up from a reclining position.
I recently came across video of the cat experiment, which shows – I believe – much different behavior. The cat does not seem lethargic at all. In fact, it looks wide awake and fully alert. In addition, the cat gets up right away, with ease and acts out the dream. If you didn’t know the cat was actually asleep, you’d swear it was wide awake! I think the difference is caused because the pathway has been completely severed allowing none of the chemical whatsoever to reach the muscles, which in-turn gives the cat complete control over its’ body. (WARNING! There is a second or two of really strange music at the very beginning of the video so don’t be alarmed).
What do you think? This leads me to believe that, with the disorder, there is still some level of chemical that is reaching the muscles. Do you, or does someone you know have REM Behavior disorder? What do they or what do you do when you have episodes?