What are Parasomnias?
Parasomnias are types of sleep disorders that are characterized by actions that occur while a person is sleeping, and doesn’t have recollection of the events when they awaken. Some type of Parasomnia include: Sleep Walking; Sleep Talking; Sleep Terrors and Sleep Eating.
Parasomnia can occur during REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep or NREM (non-rapid eye movement) stage of sleep (which is considered to be the “lighter” sleep stage).
Parasomnias are categorized into two groups:
- Primary – Disorders of sleep.
- Secondary – Disorder of other bodily systems that happen during stages of sleep.
What Causes Parasomnias?
There may be a genetic link, as many parasomnias occur in several family members.
Some parasomnia may be triggered by a brain disorder such as REM Sleep Behavior Disorder.
The exact causes of parasomnias are not clear, but they could be related to other disorders and diseases (such as Parkinson’s). They can also be a side effect to certain medications or trigged by other sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea).
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) may also be a cause of some parasomnias.
Types of Parasomnias
There are different types of parasomnias, such as sleep terrors and sleepwalking. It is rare for individuals to remember their sleep time behavior when they are fully awake.
Some types of parasomnias include (but are not limited to):
1. Sleep Eating:
Although this is rare, some people may get up from bed to eat, and rarely remember doing so. Excess weight gain is certainly a possibility, and this parasomnia affects about one million American citizens.
2. Visual or Auditory Sleep Starts:
This parasomnia is not unusual, and an example would be a person may experiencing a bright (blinding) light while they sleep. In turn, a loud noise (similar to a “snapping” sound) can be frightening to a person and jerk them suddenly awake.
3. Sleep Talking:
Somniloquy (the technical term for individuals that talk in their sleep) is a common parasomnia, and there is rarely a cause to be medically alarmed. Individuals may mumble, talk clearly or even yell while sleeping.
Somnambulism (better known as sleepwalking) is when a person is sleeping and is up and walking around, without much memory of ever experiencing it. Sleepwalking can be dangerous, because an individual can fall.
Some complex behaviors that are associated with sleepwalking may include cooking, eating and even driving. Episodes can last 15 to 60 minutes.
This parasomnia usually occurs between the ages of 8 and 12, but can happen at any stage of life.
Bedwetting (or sleep enuresis) mostly occurs during the potty training years, and it affects approximately 7 million children living in America. This parasomnia should end by the time a child is 7 years old, and medical treatment is recommended if it continues.
Teeth grinding is common, and can cause expensive dental damage if not addressed and treated by a trained professional. This unconscious and involuntary act of clenching or grinding your teeth while you sleep may be stress-related.
Symptoms Related to Parasomnias
Signs that you may experience parasomnia may include, but not limited to:
- A traumatic experience (such as post traumatic syndrome, an accident, or death of a loved one may trigger some parasomnias).
- Crying, yelling or screaming while arousing from a dream state are common symptoms of individuals that are affected by a parasomnia.
Difference Between REM and Non-REM Sleep Parasomnias?
- NREM Parasomnias: The parasomnias that occur during this slow wave of sleep usually involve the nervous system and motor skills. Sleep walking and sleep eating are good examples of a NREM parasomnia.
- REM Parasomnias: Nightmares are a very common REM parasomnia, and are usually triggered by high stress levels. Nightmares, unlike night terrors, are more organized and details can be remembered soon after a person awakens.
How Parasomnias are Prevented and Treated?
Once a particular parasomnia is identified, then it can be addressed and treated appropriately. Prescribed medications may be an option, but lifestyle changes and behavioral therapy is a preferred treatment.
If a person is prone to sleepwalking, it is advised to keep the home safe by adding locks and alarm triggers to doors and windows. Clear the bedroom of items that might cause a person to trip and fall. Try to avoid stairs by sleeping on the lower level of a multi- level home, and always choose the bottom bunk.
A mouth guard, fitted by a dentist, may help with bruxism and help to avoid future medical/oral problems.
Bedwetting treatment includes medications, behavior modification and temporary alarm devices that are triggered by moisture.
Biofeedback and other stress reduction* techniques may be an effective treatment for RLS (restless leg syndrome).
It is highly recommended to see a medical professional if your parasomnia symptoms become a danger to yourself or others.