Parasomnias are unusual behaviors that occur when a person is asleep. Determining the type of parasomnia one suffers from is very important for receiving proper treatment.
People who suffer from sleep disorders, and even some who don’t, may experience unusual behaviors during their sleep such as sleep walking, night terrors, bedwetting, and head banging to name only a few. These behaviors, known as parasomnias, are not performed intentionally and sometimes the sufferer isn’t even aware they are happening. Parasomnias can have a negative impact on people during the daytime, usually leading to daytime fatigue. Many sleep disorders cause a good amount of stress and discomfort to the person experiencing them, as well as their sleeping partners, and these parasomnias should always be examined by a sleep specialist for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Parasomnias can occur at any point in the sleep cycle, or while a person is falling asleep. People most at risk for parasomnias are those who have a family history of sleep disorders. Children are particularly vulnerable due to the immaturity of the brain, while the parasomnias, much like sleepwalking, are usually outgrown as the child matures.
Treatment for parasomnias usually involves simply improving sleep hygiene. In some cases, drug therapy can be used for conditions such as REM behavior disorder (RBD). A parasomnia might also be related to a psychiatric disorder. A person should seek treatment if there is risk to their own sleep, as well as others, or if there is distress caused by the symptoms, such as nightmares.
Different Types of Parasomnias
There are several different types of behaviors that may occur while a person is sleeping. Sleepwalking and abnormal arousals are two of the most common parasomnias. Sleep terrors, though not as common as the other two, are becoming more common amongst people. These behaviors may occur when a person is in a deep non-dreaming sleep state, but not completely awake. Night time seizures, a very serious parasomnia, requires immediate medical attention and treatment and should not be taken lightly.
Most people with parasomnias are unable to remember their behavior in the morning when they are completely awake. Those suffering with sleep disorders often require a sleep study to fully understand their particular issue and what treatments are available. Here are some of the specific types of parasomnias:
Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Behavior Disorder
When we are in the rapid eye movement sleep cycle, the voluntary muscles of our bodies are paralyzed. However, in some people, especially older males, this paralysis of the voluntary muscles may be absent or partial. As a result of this, these people may indulge unknowingly into the behaviors which they experience in their dreams. Such behaviors may be very mild, like sitting up in their sleep, or can become more intense and violent. Often, such behaviors lead to injuries to the people themselves and their bed partner. Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) is a relatively common parasomnia.
Sleep Related Eating Disorder
Sleep-eating is a rare form of sleepwalking in which a person may get up from the bed and eat without being completely aware of what they are doing. This behavior, though rare, may cause a significant amount of increase in weight. Sleep Related Eating Disorder affects more than a million Americans and while this parasomnia may affect anyone at any age, it appears to affect younger women more than men. It is believed that genetics, rather than hunger, play a role in this parasomnia.
Rhythmic Movement Disorder
Rhythmic Movement Disorder is a condition most common in school-aged children. Repeated head banging is one of the most common parasomnias experienced while struggling with this condition. The child may moan, sing or hum and bang their head repeatedly against a hard surface, without being aware of what they are doing and the pain that results from it. The exact cause of this is unknown and the parasomnias themselves can be very serious in certain cases.
Visual or Auditory Sleep Starts
Experiencing a sudden jerk when you are asleep or falling asleep is one of the most common parasomnias experienced by people. There are, however, other sleep starts that can be very frightening to the person experiencing it. For example, a sleeping person may experience a blinding light emerging from inside the eyes. A loud snapping noise in an auditory sleep start can also frighten a person awake.
Sleep talking, also known as somniloquy, is a normal sleep phenomenon experienced by many people who either speak throughout or during their sleep. This is usually not considered a medically alarming parasomnia.
Sleep paralysis occurs in the transition between sleep and waking and includes complete muscle paralysis. It is not a harmful parasomnia, but it can cause fear and confusion. A person is able to move again shortly afterwards. Sleep paralysis may be an isolated event or a recurrent phenomenon.
Sleepwalking, or somnambulism, occurs when a person appears to be awake while walking around but is actually still asleep. Afterwards, the person will have no memory of the sleepwalking incident. The most common age for sleepwalking is between 8-12, but it can occur at any time during a person's life. The condition appears to run in families and although commonly assumed, it is not dangerous to awaken a sleepwalker. Sleepwalking itself can be dangerous, however, because the person is unaware of their surroundings and may fall and seriously injure themselves.
Also known as excessive sleep inertia or sleep drunkenness, confusional arousals occurs when a person is awakened from a deep sleep state. It involves exaggerated slowness upon awakening and the person will react slowly to commands and may have trouble comprehending what is being asked. Often, the person will have problems with short-term memory and no recollection of the event the following day.
Also known as sleep enuresis, bedwetting involves the inability to maintain urinary control while asleep. It is common during the potty-training years, and it is estimated that 7 million American children wet the bed on a regular basis. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2003 'Sleep in America Poll', 14% of preschoolers and 3% of school-aged children wet the bed a few nights a week. 21% of preschoolers and 7% of school-aged children wet the bed once a week or more. In most cases, it is not considered a medical problem until after age 7. If it happens more than two to three times a month, a parent should contact their child’s pediatrician.
The condition can be caused by a medical condition such as diabetes, a urinary tract infection, sleep apnea, or a psychiatric disorder. Some treatments for bedwetting include behavior modification, alarm devices and medications.
Grinding your teeth very hard during sleep is a dangerous parasomnia which can lead to dental as well as other oral injuries. There are several psychological and medical conditions which are associated with bruxism and in severe cases a dental guard device may need to be inserted into the mouth to keep the teeth from grinding.
A rare parasomnia, “sexsomnia” involves a person carrying out sexual acts while asleep. It can occur alongside other parasomnias such as sleepwalking, sleep apnea, night terrors and bedwetting. It can be triggered by stress, previous sleep deprivation and excessive consumption of drugs or alcohol. It should not be confused with sexual arousal during sleep, such as erections during REM sleep for men.
If you are interested in finding out more about parasomnias and various treatment options, please call The Los Angeles Sleep Study Institute at 1-855-690-0563 and our representative will be happy to answer any of your questions, comments, or concerns.