Diagnostic Criteria, Differential Diagnosis, and Treatment of Minor Motor Activity and Less Well-Known Movement Disorders of Sleep

Curr Treat Options Neurol. 2019 Jan 19;21(1):1. doi: 10.1007/s11940-019-0543-8.


Purpose of review: Sleep-related movement disorders (SRMD) include several different motor activities during sleep. Few of them are well known and well classified, whereas others are minor motor disorders of sleep which are neither thoroughly characterized and classified nor have been extensively investigated to clarify their pathogenesis and clinical relevance. This review will focus on those minor sleep-related movement disorders.

Recent findings: Before diagnosing periodic limb movement (PLM) disorder in patients with PLM during polysomnography, other disorders associated with PLM need to be excluded, namely restless legs syndrome (RLS), narcolepsy, REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), and sleep-related breathing disorder. For the diagnosis of propriospinal myoclonus at sleep-onset, multi-channel surface electromyography recording during polysomnography is required and a possible psychogenic origin of the movement disorder has to be considered. Excessive fragmentary myoclonus (EFM) does not require symptomatic treatment, but further evaluation is suggested as electrophysiological abnormalities are present in 50% of cases. Nine percent of healthy sleepers meet the criteria for EFM, raising the question if current, arbitrarily defined, cutoffs are valid. Hypnagogic foot tremor, rhythmic feet movements, alternating leg muscle activation, and high-frequency leg movements are somewhat overlapping minor motor activities during sleep which may exist on their own or represent stereotyped movements to relieve RLS-like symptoms. Neck myoclonus is probably a physiological phenomenon related to REM twitching. RBD is formally a parasomnia but a relevant differential diagnosis when evaluating sleep-related movement disorders. In particular, prodromal RBD is characterized by electromyographic and behavioral findings on video-polysomnography which needs to be differentiated by minor sleep-related movement disorders. Minor SRMD beyond the well-known main motor disorders of sleep should be correctly diagnosed, distinguished from differential diagnosis, and understood in their potential clinical relevance, in order also to start an appropriate treatment if needed.

Keywords: EFM; Idiopathic RBD; Isolated RBD; Neck myoclonus; Prodromal RBD.

Publication types

  • Review