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Ed Yeates ReportingNeurologists at the prestigious Mayo Clinic have successfully used the common hormone melatonin to treat a sleep disorder in which patients violently act out their dreams. Utah sleep centers find the preliminary findings intriguing, but far too premature for any conclusions.
REM sleep Behavior Disorder, as it's called, is not only threatening to the thrashing sleepers themselves, but to their bed partners as well. In deep sleep normally the brain paralyzes our muscles so we don't move while dreaming. But sometimes the mechanism fails, and people act out their nightmares.
Some believe variations of this pattern may occur in one out of every 200 people. If so, Russell Wilkins, whom we interviewed four months ago, is among many who really do kick and pound and run and jump while dreaming.
Russell Wilkins: "I jumped about ten feet. I hit my head against a dresser, which I have in my bedroom and I blackened my eye and all my face. My lips were swollen up."
But neurologists at the Mayo Clinic say they've now seen a dramatic improvement in some patients by simply using the natural hormone melatonin.
Brad Boeve, M.D., Neurologist, Mayo Clinic: "most of the patients where we used melatonin, it worked quite well. Few people had side effects, and it worked for an extended period of time."
Melatonin has been around a long time as a possible treatment to adjust a person's sleep-wake cycle, even for the treatment of jet lag. But for REM sleep disorders, this is a whole new application.
But there is a caution! Mayo physicians say melatonin is not a panacea. At LDS Hospital's Sleep Center, Dr. Robert Farney agrees, though side effects from melatonin for the most part are benign.
Robert Farney, M.D., LDS Hospital Sleep Center: "Over the counter products can sometimes cause adverse effects that are unexpected. So I think we have to be careful until this has really been explored scientifically."
The Mayo Clinic began using melatonin based on a small study recently published by German researchers. Like Dr. Farney, physicians there too are recommending more research before jumping to conclusions.