Parasomnias is a term used to describe a group of sleep disorders that involve unwanted experiences or events that occur while sleeping or even waking up. Parasomnias often include abnormal behaviors, abnormal movements, dreams, perceptions, and emotions.
Behaviors may be complex and appear purposeful to others, while you remain asleep during the event. If you have a parasomnia, you may find it hard to sleep through the night.
A parasomnia is a sleep disorder that causes abnormal behavior while sleeping. This behavior may occur at any age and at any stage of sleep. This behavior is so unpredicted that it may happen even in the transition from sleeping to wakefulness and vice versa.
If you have a parasomnia, you might talk, move around, and do strange things while sleeping. Others may believe that you are awake, but you’re actually unconscious.
In most cases, the sleeper won’t remember the incident. Parasomnia is common, and they may lower your chances of getting restful sleep. This behavior might also disrupt the sleep of your sleep partner and people near you.
Plus, some parasomnias can be dangerous because you’re aware of your surroundings. There might also be health-related side effects, such as psychological stress.
Luckily, like the majority of sleep disorders, parasomnias are treatable. Read on to discover the causes and types of parasomnias along with proper treatment options.
Some parasomnias may occur in the first half of the night, during the famous non-rapid eye movement sleep.
Others may occur later int he night, during REM sleep. Parasomnia stands for unusual behaviors, and they may vary in terms of severity, frequency, and characteristics.
On the historical side, parasomnias were considered to be a sign of psychopathology, but some contemporary researchers argue these phenomena occur as the b”ain transitions in and out of sleep.
Each parasomnia is different, coming with its unique symptoms and diagnostic criteria, that parasomnias can be categorized into three general groups:
- REM-related, and
1. NREM-Related Parasomnias
Non-rapid eye movement sleep is known as ‘shallow’ sleep nad stands for the first stage of the sleep cycle. NREM-related parasomnias are known as disorders of arousal.
These parasomnias are characterized by different incomplete awakening episodes and limited responsiveness to other people attempting to redirect the sleeper.
Most people who experience disorders of arousal have little to no memory of their episodes.
These episodes include:
- Confusional arousals. This is when the sleeper experiences mental confusion.
- Sleepwalking. Condition that occurs in sleep, when people get out of bed while still asleep.
- Night terrors (or sleep terrors). People who experience this often scream in their sleep and aren’t responsive to any external stimulant. In this behavior, the sleeper has no memory of events while sleeping.
- Sleep-related sexual abnormal behaviors. This condition is also known as sexsomnia, and its characterize by unusual sexual behaviors during sleep, such as sexual noises, initiation os sexual intercourse, or even aggressive masturbation.
Different studies have shown that both females and males are equally susceptible to various disorders of arousal. However, it appears that age plays a significant role.
According to Sleep Foundation, parasomnias have been reported in roughly 17% of children ages three to 13. For children and adults 15 and older, the prevalence rate falls between 2.9% and 4.2%.
Another NREM-related parasomnia is a sleep-related eating disorder. This stage includes episodes of dysfunctional eating that occur after arousal from sleep.
Most people have little or no memory of the events. Hazards associated with a sleep-related eating disorder include:
- Injuries from cooking
- Injuries from preparing food
- Physiological effects of excessive eating
- Physiological effects of unhealthy eating
2. REM-Related Parasomnias
Rapid eye movement sleep is an important stage of the sleep cycle. When a person is in REM sleep, it means that a person will move rapidly beneath their eyelids during the REM sleep.
They may also experience faster breathing, increased heart rate, and higher blood pressure.
Common REM-related parasomnias include:
- REM sleep behavior disorder. This disorder is characterized by uncommon movements and unusual vocalizations, as a reaction to dream. It’s also often responsible for skeletal muscle atonia.
- Recurrent isolated sleep paralysis. Those with this condition may feel compete for bodily atrophy during sleep or upon waking. When this paralysis happens, a person cannot move any part of the body.
- Nightmare disorder. Unpleasant dreams are common, even in people who don’t have sleep-related issues. However, nightmare disorder is very limited to those who go through vivid dreams defined by threats to survival or even security. This disorder is a common part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
This category talks about behaviors that occur during the transition between sleep or wakefulness, as well as those that can occur during NREM or REM sleep. These parasomnias include:
- Exploding head syndrome. This syndrome is also known as sensory sleep starts, and people with this condition will often hear a loud and strong noise in their head before they wake up. Some may even feed an exploding sensation before they wake up. This state can make a person highly anxious. Luckily, this condition is physically painless.
- Sleep-related hallucinations. People with this condition may experience strong hallucinations during sleep or when they wake up. These hallucinations may be tactile, visual, auditory, or even kinetic in nature. In some extreme cases, sleepers may even leave their bed in an attempt to escape what they are experiencing.
- Sleep Enuresis. This condition is also known as bedwetting and refers to involuntary urination during sleep. This practice is common in young children and mostly appears in those of the age of five.
Parasomnia In Children
This may sound unusual, but the truths that parasomnia affects more children than adults. It’It’sen more common in children who have some sort of neurological or psychiatric conditions.
For example, children with ADHD or epilepsy are more prone to parasomnias. Also, strong anxiety, stress, and even sleep deprivation can also trigger child parasomnias.
However, parasomnia in children mostly occurs because their sleep-wake cycle is immature. This means that boundaries between sleep and wakefulness are yet to be developed, which results in a mixed state of consciousness.
In children, parasomnia frequently occurs in the form of crying and fear. Children are often scared to go to sleep alone. If your child has abnormal sleep behaviors, know that they aren’t doing it on purpose. Instead of blaming them for such behavior, try to be supportive.
For example, if they wet the bed, tell them calmly to use the bathroom before bedtime, and they will thank you for it.
The most common parasomnia symptoms are unusual behavior, although it may cause other symptoms as well. You might experience the following:
- wake up disoriented
- wake up confused
- not having memory of events during the night
- find cust on your body without knowing how you got them
- feel daytime fatigue
- feel daytime sleepiness
Diagnosing A Parasomnia
It would help if you talked to your doctor as soon as you notice any unusual signs.
Your primary care doctor should have your entire medical history and could easily diagnose parasomnia with enough inputs from your side.
You may be directed to a sleep specialist, who can further examine your sleeping behavior.
Diagnosis often includes:
- Medical history. Your doctor will compare your medical history with the current condition. Your doctor may also ask about underlying medical conditions and your current lifestyle. You may also expect questions about current medications and family history.
- Sleep history. Expect questions on your sleeping habits and your sleep routine. If you live with someone, your bed partner should say something about your sleeping habits that might help with diagnosis.
- Polysomnogram. This is a sleeping test, where you sleep in a lab overnight so an assigned specialist can analyze your sleeping behavior. They will record and track your brain waves, breathing, and heart rate to make a diagnosis.
The right treatment may vary from parasomnia type and severity. You may expect the following:
- Medication: this is a common treatment when parasomnias is frequent or recurring. The most common medicine here include melatonin, levodopa, antidepressants, and many more.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: parasomnia is often linked to mental health concerns, such as anxiety and stress, which make cognitive behavioral therapy a common treatment. Next to cognitive behavioral therapy, you may expect hypnosis, relaxation therapy, and psychotherapy.
- Home treatments: sometimes many home treatments should be enough to help you feel better. Your doctor may suggest schedule awakenings and safer sleep environments.
Parasomnia can seriously disturb someone’s sleep and affect its quality. Parasomnia may also increase the risk of accidents and health problems due to lack of rest.
Luckily, parasomnia is treatable, which is why it is important to visit your doctor as soon as you notice any unusual sleep behaviors.
Your doctor will be able to explore any underlying causes and provide the best treatment for your symptoms.