Ohio man battles rare sleep disorder that causes him to act out dreams

ASHLAND, Ohio (WJW) — Plenty of people have scary dreams now and then, but those dreams became a living nightmare for an Ohio man who suffers from a rare sleep disorder. And, now, his wife has become a victim of his sleep fighting.

"I found myself in the car at one in the morning, fortunately the keys weren't in it so I wasn't out driving around," said Ron Whitehall of Ashland. "I fell down the steps, walking in my sleep, twice.”

Whitehall said his sleepwalking was sporadic for years, until recently.

"In the last six, eight years I would start acting out my dreams," he explained.

In his vivid, violent dreams he would confront a class bully and fight off a snake, but in real life he was fighting his wife while he slept.

"The first time he was clawing me," his wife, JP, said. "I had my back to him and he was clawing my back.”

Ron and JP have been married 41 years.  Now, JP has spent countless sleepless nights worrying about Ron’s safety.

"It's hard," she explained. "I know he would never hurt me; he is not a fighter."

However, for her safety, the couple ultimately decided to sleep in separate rooms.

"He was always angry and fighting somebody. He was screaming or whatever. That is just not Ron," JP told WJW.

"We put pillows between us if I was fighting so she wouldn't get injured. And that’s what sent us to the sleep clinic," Whitehall said.

Whitehall has what's called REM behavioral sleep disorder, which is a disorder where people act out their dreams.

"In his case, he is able to move around, talk, fight, walk, and have the behaviors they are doing during their dream," explained Dr. John Andrefsky, medical director of the sleep center at UH Parma Medical Center.

Dr. Andrefsky treats a range of sleep disorders at the center including insomnia, sleep apnea, sleep eating and other bizarre behaviors.

"What is more concerning is what are you doing when you are acting out your dreams? Are you injuring yourself or someone else? That is when you want to treat REM behavior disorder," Dr. Andrefsky said.

After diagnosis, medical officials offer treatment which, in Whitehall's case, comes in the form of a pill.

The medications used to treat REM behavior disorder actually decrease how much REM sleep an individual gets, which means those taking the medications never truly experience a deep REM sleep.

However, for Whitehall, a peaceful sleep provides peace of mind for himself and his family, and that's enough for him.