Popular supplement may treat rare sleep disorder

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Melatonin can be used to help with jet lag, but can it also help with a rare sleep disorder? (KABC)

Melatonin can be used to help with jet lag, but can it also help with a rare sleep disorder?

If you or a loved one has vivid or violent dreams of punching and fighting and act them out while you're asleep, you may be suffering from REM Sleep Behavior disorder.

When most of us are sleeping, our bodies enter a state of muscle paralysis. But doctors said people with this type of rare sleep disorder can lose that.

That was the case for Orvis Rigsby. His diagnosis started just a few years ago with signs of dementia.

"He had an incident where he got very disoriented and lost in our backyard," said his wife, Karen. "That's when we started looking for help from a neurologist."

At first, neurologist Ira Goodman thought Rigsby was suffering with something else. "I initially referred him for a clinical trial for Alzheimer's disease but right before he entered I changed my mind," Goodman said.

Instead, Goodman diagnosed Rigsby with Lewy Body Dementia and REM Sleep Behavior Disorder.

The condition, she said, can get dangerous because it causes the person to act out violently while dreaming.

"There have been fractures, there's been subdural hematomas, and as far as spouses or bed partners, there's been reports of up to two-thirds of bed partners being injured during an episode," Goodman said.

While dreaming, Rigsby would start yelling or punching, Karen said. "Sometimes it was like he flew off the bed," she said.

Doctors say there is currently no cure, but there are some things that can help.

For example, you can put padding on the floor near the bed and keep the area around the bed clear of nightstands or other furniture.

Rigsby wears a patch that helps to ease symptoms, but doctors said the best approach is for family members or partners to keep a watchful eye.

"If he's having a bad night, I'll still sleep in the bed with him and hold my hand on his shoulder," Karen said.

Besides the patch, a new drug is in the works. A national clinical trial is underway for a new medication to help patients with these symptoms.

In the meantime, experts said taking melatonin may do the trick. The popular over-the-counter supplement may help reduce or even eliminate symptoms, according to experts at the Mayo Clinic.

If you notice any symptoms of this type of sleep disorder, Goodman said it is important to see a doctor.

Getting evaluated can help you and your family feel safer and better, Karen said.

"I tell everybody, 'Don't waste time, don't waste time. Don't wait, don't wait, don't wait,'" she said. "That's all you can say."

For more information about REM sleep disorder, you can call 800-501-0684 or visit http://studies.clin-edge.com/vh_rbd-1/.

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