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I often thrash my right arm violently in sleep. What could be this?

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Hi, I am 33 years old. My girlfriend tells me that I often thrash my right arm violently during the 15-20 minutes after falling asleep. This is not a new phenomenon; though not an everyday occurrence, I often wake up with scratches on the right side of my head. I never have any memory of these episodes when I wake up. Any idea what it could be?
Posted Sun, 23 Dec 2012 in Sleep Disorders
Answered by Dr. Jonas Sundarakumar 33 minutes later
Hello and welcome to Healthcare Magic. Thanks for your query.

You are likely to be having a Nocturnal Myoclonus ("nocturnal" = occuring during night time; "myo" = muscle; "clonus" = jerks), also known as, Periodic Limb Movement Disorder.

This is a kind of sleep disorder where the person moves or violently thrashes one or many of his limbs involuntarily (i.e. without awareness) during sleep. People with this disorder come to medical attention due to two reasons:
- Often it is the spouse who brings the person to medical attention.
- Or the person can present with unexplained daytime tiredness or drownsiness.

The cause of this disorder is largely unknown but risk factors are poor or frequently changing sleep habits, psychological stress, coffee, alcohol, or the abuse of other sleeping pills. Sometimes, it may also be associated with certain neurological disorders also.

Treatment is usually with medication - anti-parkinsonian medication, anticonvulsants, benzodiazepines, etc. Also, followingstrict sleep habits and avoiding coffee, alcohol and unnecessary medication can help.

The problem of waking up with scratchiness of your head may also be a related symptom of a sleep disorder. Since your problems seem to be causing distress to your sleep partner, I would advise you to see a psychiatrist for a further evaluation and treatment. You may need a Sleep Study (Polysomnography) to confirm the diagnosis, and plan further treatment.

Wish you all the best.

- Dr. Jonas Sundarakumar
Consultant Psychiatrist
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