Antidepressants increase REM sleep muscle tone in patients with and without REM sleep behavior disorder

Stuart J. McCarter, Erik K. St. Louis, David J. Sandness, Katlyn A. Arndt, Maia K. Erickson, Grace M. Tabatabai, Bradley F. Boeve, Michael H. Silber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Study Objectives: REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is associated with antidepressant treatment, especially in younger patients; but quantitative REM sleep without atonia (RSWA) analyses of psychiatric RBD patients remain limited. We analyzed RSWA in adults receiving antidepressants, with and without RBD. Design: We comparatively analyzed visual, manual, and automated RSWA between RBD and control groups. RSWA metrics were compared between groups, and regression was used to explore associations with clinical variables. Setting: Tertiary-care sleep center. Participants: Participants included traditional RBD without antidepressant treatment (n = 30, 15 Parkinson disease [PD-RBD] and 15 idiopathic); psychiatric RBD receiving antidepressants (n = 30); and adults without RBD, including antidepressant-treated psychiatric (n = 30), untreated psychiatric (n = 15), and OSA (n = 60) controls. Interventions: N/A. Measurements and Results: RSWA was highest in traditional and psychiatric RBD, intermediate in treated psychiatric controls, and lowest in untreated psychiatric and OSA controls (P < 0.01). RSWA distribution and type also differed between antidepressant-treated patients having higher values in anterior tibialis, and PD-RBD with higher submentalis and tonic RSWA. Psychiatric RBD had significantly younger age at onset than traditional RBD patients (P < 0.01). Conclusions: Antidepressant treatment was associated with elevated REM sleep without atonia (RSWA) even without REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), suggesting that antidepressants, not depression, promote RSWA. Differences in RSWA distribution and type were also seen, with higher anterior tibialis RSWA in antidepressant-treated patients and higher tonic RSWA in Parkinson disease-RBD patients, which could aid distinction between RBD subtypes. These findings suggest that antidepressants may mediate different RSWA mechanisms or, alternatively, that RSWA type and distribution evolve during progressive neurodegeneration. Further prospective RSWA analyses are necessary to clarify the relationships between antidepressant treatment, psychiatric disease, and RBD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)907-917
Number of pages11
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015


  • Antidepressants
  • Automated analysis
  • Depression
  • Parasomnia
  • Quantitative analysis
  • REM sleep behavior disorder
  • REM sleep without atonia
  • Synucleinopathy
  • Tonic muscle activity
  • Transient/phasic muscle activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Physiology (medical)


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