Husband Thrashes About During Sleep

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My 73-year-old husband has, in the past year, been jerking during his sleep. His movements are quite wild at times. He has fallen out of bed three times during his “fighting” dreams. He dreams he is in a fight at work, playing football or shooting things. Just last night, it was killing mice. He jerks with his arms and legs.

I don’t attempt to wake him, as one time he was on the verge of striking me. I did yell his name three times, and he finally woke up.

He has had two sleep tests and was told he has “half sleep apnea.” What does that mean?

He takes no sleeping aids. I have never heard that such movements are a sign of sleep apnea. — D.S.

ANSWER: A good bet is that your husband has a condition called periodic limb movements of sleep. For many, such movements are bending of the big toe and ankle. For others, it’s jerking of the legs and arms. Most often the person doesn’t waken and has no recollection of what went on during the night. The bed partner and the condition of the blankets give testimony to what occurred during sleep.

If the person doesn’t have daytime fatigue, then this disorder isn’t considered a sleep problem for him or her. It is for the one who shares the bed.

Sometimes periodic limb movements of sleep occur with another problem, restless leg syndrome. That’s a creepy-crawly sensation in the legs that comes on in the evening when sitting or in bed. The person is compelled to get up and move around to quell the feeling.

A warm bath before going to bed might calm your husband’s movements. Decreasing the amount of caffeine he drinks and doing the same for all forms of tobacco could bring nocturnal peace for you and him.

If the situation doesn’t clear, then Mirapex or Requip, two Parkinson’s disease medicines, can put an end to the nighttime martial arts. Do tell his doctor about this. Periodic limb movements of sleep are, at times, associated with iron deficiency. I have no idea what “half sleep apnea” means.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Every now and then, my eyelid twitches. I don’t think it’s due to me being tired, because it can happen when I am wide awake in the morning. And I don’t think it’s due to stress — I love my work. Furthermore, I don’t drink any caffeinated beverages. What do you think is the significance of this? — H.R.

ANSWER: Nearly everyone has had a twitchy eyelid at some time in life. It’s not a sign of illness. It’s not something that lasts for any length of time. Fatigue, stress and caffeinated beverages all have been implicated as causes. But most people with a twitchy lid are like you; they have and do none of these things.

A washcloth soaked in warm water and placed on the involved, closed lid for a few minutes generally can stop the twitching. Or gentle massage of the involved, closed lid also can end it.

If it continues and lasts for longer periods, then a doctor has to be consulted.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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