Sleep Care

New Study Explains Muscle Paralysis During Sleep

Muscle Paralysis During Sleep

Partial muscle paralysis throughout the different stages of sleep and in the case of REM sleep, complete muscle atonia or paralysis, are attributes of healthy restorative sleep. However associated with different sleep disorders the lack of this muscle paralysis or the over action of paralysis can cause serious physical problems to an individual. A few sleep disorders directly related to this issue are tooth grinding or bruxism, narcolepsy, and even REM sleep behavior disorder. Recently there was a study conducted at the University of Toronto shedding more light on what causes this paralysis and could help treat these different disorders.

Bruxism is the grinding and clenching of the teeth while sleeping; causing constant pressure on the teeth, gums

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and muscles of the mouth. Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that is often chronic and results in excessive daytime sleepiness and sleep attacks at numerous times throughout the day. People suffering from narcolepsy run the risk of falling asleep anytime such as at work or in a public setting. REM sleep behavior disorder is a sleep disorder in which one acts out his or her dreams. Kicking, jerking, and even sleepwalking are associated with RBD and can be dangerous for both the individual experiencing RBD and the individuals around them. All of these sleep disorders result from a lack of muscle paralysis in the cases of the bruxism and RBD, and over production of muscle movement neurons in the case of narcolepsy. Thus far, it was believed that glycine was the sole cause of paralysis to the muscles while sleeping. Glycine is a motor neuron that communicates movement from the brain to the body’s muscles. Until this study was conducted it was believed that if glycine was blocked, this communication would not happen, and therefore muscle paralysis would be the result.

Dr John H. Peever and Patricia L. Brooks, through a series of studies, found that in rats not only is glycine responsible for “turning off” muscle function while sleeping, the blocking of GABA or gamma-aminobutyric, another neurotransmitter, was also required. The researchers monitored electrical activity in the facial muscles of rats. Much like humans, the rats use the motor neurons glycine and GABA to communicate movement from the brain to the different muscles of the body. Both of these transmitters had to be blocked to induce sleep paralysis. High levels of muscle activities were recorded in the rats mouth muscles when only glycine was blocked suggesting both glycine and GABA are mutual in relation to motor control while sleeping as opposed to the two working individually.

The results from this study can be extremely important in regards to the different sleep paralysis related sleep disorders. REM sleep behavior disorder, for example, has also been linked to Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. With a better understanding of the chemical transmitters and processes behind this action we are one step closer to helping cure such diseases. Dr. Peever elaborated on this by stating, “Understanding the precise mechanism behind these chemicals’ role in REM sleep disorder is particularly important because about 80 percent of people who have it eventually develop a neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinson’s. REM sleep behavior disorder could be an early marker of these diseases, and curing it may help prevent or even stop their development. “

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