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You may have heard of that recent story going viral on Facebook—a woman swallowed her engagement ring in her sleep. Why? She was acting out her dreams.
In this dream, her fiancé was dealing with some bad guys on a high-speed train and told her to swallow her ring so they couldn’t take it. She complied. Popping the ring in her mouth and chasing it with water, part of her consciousness found it strange, but knowing she was dreaming, she rolled over and went back to sleep.
Come the next morning, she woke up, looked down at her finger, and the ring was gone. She had an idea where it lay: in her stomach. After an invasive visit to the gastroenterologist, she and her fiancé chucked it up to another wacky adventure in the life of a sleepwalker.
As entertaining as this story may seem, the idea of consuming metal (or anything else for that matter) in your sleep is terrifying to most people. Acting out vivid dreams isn’t isolated to this case. It’s actually a parasomnia called REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD).
RBD is described as acting out your dreams, often unpleasant dreams, by calling out or physically moving. While this movement is usually jerky arm and leg movements, it can sometimes turn into full, violent episodes.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is the stage of sleep where most people dream. It happens about 60 to 90 minutes after falling asleep. Though asleep, our brain is more active than when we wake. As our brains recover from a long day’s work, our cells regenerate, and we dream.
What is supposed to happen is that our muscles paralyze, keeping us from acting out what we dream. People with RBD don’t have this mild sleep paralysis which allows them to be in the dream both mentally and physically.
Most people find out that they have RBD from their bed partners after hitting or kicking them. Other symptoms include the following:
RBD is often seen paired with other sleep disorders such as Narcolepsy and Sleep Apnea or is paired with neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s. In fact, RBD can actually signal Parkinson’s disease about 10 years in the future, this being the case for about 38% of patients.
Those most at risk for RBD are men over the age of 50, though this doesn’t mean women under 50 can’t have it. Also, people who take antidepressants, are going through withdrawal, or are suffering from PTSD have a higher chance of suffering from RBD.
So, what can you do? Some people with RBD are scared to go to sleep because they don’t know that they’ll do. Instead of inducing sleep deprivation, if you think you or your sleep partner may have RBD, the first thing you should do is visit a sleep clinic to confirm that you have this parasomnia.
Most of the time, a doctor will prescribe Clonazepam, a sleep medicine that works for 90% of the cases of RBD. Most people don’t develop a tolerance or dependence on this drug. Melatonin may work as a natural alternative, though it is not as effective.
Regardless of treatment, you should still take safety precautions. Make sure there are no sharp objects or breakables in the bedroom.
Though the woman who swallowed her engagement ring in her sleep is okay and ready to walk down the aisle, REM Sleep Disorder is still a parasomnia many people suffer from. They act out their terrifying, violent dreams, waking their bed partners. In order for people with RBD to get regular amounts of sleep without thrashing, they should visit their doctor or sleep clinic to see what can be done. With regular doses of certain medications, the symptoms can be almost non-existent.