What Are Parasomnias?

Parasomnias refer to nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking, confusional arousals and other issues arising from or precipiating sudden arousal from REM (rapid eye movement) sleep or from partial arousal from non-REM sleep.

Parasomnias occur in about 10 percent of all Americans, but affect children the most. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF): “Parasomnias often run in families and so there is probably a genetic factor in many cases. Brain disorders may be responsible for some parasomnias, such as many cases of REM sleep behavior disorder. Parasomnias may also be triggered by other sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, and by various medications.”

What are some of these parasomnias?

Nightmares are vivid sleep events that evoke fear, anxiety and even terror. The nightmare usually causes arousal from sleep and makes it extremely difficult to get back to sleep or to get any quality sleep afterwards. Causes of nightmares are varied, including anxiety, illness, loss of a loved one or reactions to a medication. If you suffer frequent nightmares, once every week or two, you should seek professional advice.

Night terrors, or sleep terrors, often occur during deep sleep and cause the sufferer to rise up in terror, but in a confused and non-communicative state (the person does not respond if you try communicating). Incidents last about 15 minutes. Children 3 to 5 often suffer from sleep terrors, but the condition can run in families, so even adults can experience them. Sleep terrors sometimes involve sleepwalking and limb movement, both of which can be dangerous to the person. Contrary to popular belief, it is safe to awaken a sleepwalker.

Confusional arousals, or sleep drunkenness, happen when a person is awakened from a deep sleep but remains in a confused, or drunken-appearing, state. A person in a confused-arousal state will not respond to communications, but the next day will have no memory of the incident.

Other parasomnias that can occur include rhythmic movement disorder, sleep talking, nocturnal leg cramps, sleep paralysis, irregular heart rhythms, REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), sleep bruxism (grinding of the teeth), sleep enuresis (bedwetting), and nocturnal paroxysmal dystonia (NPD).

Obviously, if you or any of your loved ones frequently experience any of these parasomnias, it’s time to seek professional evaluation and help. Not only the quality of your sleep but the quality of your very existence can be affected negatively by these disorders. Get help immediately.

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