Imagine this: You're having a vivid dream of something chasing you. You run and leap across buildings, jumping and spinning.
What keeps your body from actually acting out these movements during REM sleep, even as they play out so actively in your brain?
Scientists have pinpointed the mechanism that keeps our muscles paralyzed, and they say that understanding could be a boon to finding treatments for sleep conditions and disorders like REM sleep behavior disorder, narcolepsy and tooth grinding. REM sleep behavior disorder occurs when people act out their dreams, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Researchers conducted their study in rats to find that there are two separate chemical systems that seem to be at play in helping the body stay paralyzed during REM sleep. Specifically, researchers found that when they blocked both the metabotropic GABAB receptors and the GABAA/glycine ionotropic receptors, the rats moved when they should have been still during REM sleep.
"By identifying the neurotransmitters and receptors involved in sleep-related paralysis, this study points us to possible molecular targets for developing treatments for sleep-related motor disorders, which can often be debilitating," Dennis J. McGinty, Ph.D., a sleep researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the new study, said in a statement.
The new study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
The researchers also noted that REM sleep disorder is a risk factor for Parkinson's disease, so "curing it may help prevent or even stop their development," study researcher John H. Peever, Ph.D., of the University of Toronto, said in a statement.
A study published earlier this year in the journal Annals of Neurology showed that people with REM sleep behavior disorder have a doubled risk of developing mild cognitive cognitive impairment or Parkinson's disease, with the increased risk being in the first four years of being diagnosed with the disorder.
For more on some strange, but true, sleep conditions, click through the slideshow: