Talking in your sleep, vivid nightmares to the point you wake up in terror, and walking all over your home in the wee hours of the night. All are examples of disruptive sleep disorders known collectively as parasomnias, which have been the inspiration for horror movies and books for years. Falling into two categories, parasomnias can occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep or non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. The following are classified as parasomnias: nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking, sleep talking, rhythmic movement disorder, nocturnal leg cramps, confusional arousal and sleep paralysis. Like with many other conditions that adversely affect sleep, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), people with parasomnia will have difficulty functioning throughout the day and thus constantly battle with sleepiness.
What Causes Parasomnia?
When the problem occurs during REM, the symptoms tend to be more active, and individuals have been known to sometimes act out their dreams in a violent manner. This parasomnia occurrence tends to be found more often in men over the age of 50. However, acting out dreams in a harmful way can also occur in people with Parkinson’s disease, narcolepsy, and those who have suffered a stroke. When a person has hallucinations and paralysis (the inability to move for seconds to minutes), it usually means that the disturbances started when he or she was in the process of falling asleep. And when an individual is only partially awake, sleepwalking, sleep terrors and confusional arousals takes place.
Genetics seem to play into the incidence of sleepwalking as it tends to run in families. Brain and sleep disorders have also been found to trigger parasomnia episodes as well as taking medications such as antidepressants. Although parasomnia can produce bizarre behavior, it is important to understand that it is rare that the individual also has a psychiatric disorder.
How Common is Parasomnia?
It is estimated that 10% of adults living in the United States have some form of parasomnia and its incidence is much more prevalent in children. If you know someone who suffers from any of the parasomnias, it is important to help keep him or her safe as well as yourself. For example, if your loved one is walking around the house, you should guide him or her back to bed and not waken them from the parasomniac episode. If you wake them up, the sleepwalking or other occurrence can startle the individual and cause a more negative or adverse outburst. Tips to keep you and your loved one safe during a parasomniac episode:
- Hide sharp objects and car keys
- Keep windows locked
- If the sufferer is a child, make sure that he or she does not sleep on the top bunk.
How is Parasomnia Treated?
Like with most sleep disorders, treatment should start with the parasomnia sufferer following healthy sleep hygiene. In most instances, sticking to a set sleep routine, and decreasing stress can help minimize the number of parasomnia episodes. However, if the incidence escalates or there is an increased risk for harm to any member in the household, then it is time to visit a sleep specialist for an evaluation.
If you suspect you have a parasomnia or sleep apnea, or been diagnosed and would like to find out what individualized treatment option might be available for you, contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 to schedule a free consultation.