Most Common Parasomnias
Parasomnias relate to a number of different sleep disorders, not just a single sleep disorder. Parasomnias are considered sleep disorders because they are conditions that affect your ability to get sleep – hence, they disrupt your circadian rhythm and lead to sleep deprivation. Some parasomnias will be obvious and easy to identify, others will require a bed partner in order to identify.
The most common parasomnias are:
- Sleep terrors
- Sleep talking
- Sleep paralysis
- REM sleep behavior disorder
As we go through the list, see if any of these parasomnias sound familiar.
Overview of Sleep Terrors
Sleep terrors, also known as night terrors, are when you partially rouse or fully wake up from sleep in a confused, terrified state, but are unable to articulate why. While this can be disconcerting for the sleeper to wake up this way, it can be particularly scary for the parent or bed partner witnessing the sleep terror.
People who awake from sleep terrors often do not response to voices, and it can be hard to fully wake them. Some things to be aware of sleep terrors are:
- Night terrors are like nightmares, but unlike nightmares they occur in deep sleep and may be more affecting
- More common in kids than adults
- Terrors usually last about 15 minutes
- After a sleep terror, the sleeper may fully rouse or go back to sleep
- Sleepers do not remember their night terror upon waking
If someone is experiencing a night terror, it’s best to remain calm and to try and wake them gently, as they may be agitated, confused, and scared.
Overview of Sleep Talking
Sleep talking is something we have all heard of, or actually hear our bed partner doing. It’s simply talking in your sleep. Sleep talking can range from:
- Brief simple sounds, to
- Single words and mumbling, to
- Long speeches by the sleeper
Most people will make brief, simple sounds, or you may be able to distinguish particular words. It’s less common, though not uncommon, for people to say whole sentences or even give long speeches. Sleep talkers will usually have no memory of their talking in the morning.
Though sleep talking is not disruptive for the sleeper, it can be disruptive for sleep partner.
Overview of Sleepwalking
Like sleep talking, we’ve all heard of sleepwalking. You have likely even heard or been part of funny or scary sleepwalking stories.
Sleepwalking is when you appear to be awake and move around, but you are actually sleeping. Here is pertinent information about sleepwalking:
- It usually occurs during non-REM sleep (stages three and four)
- It often occurs early in the night, and can occur during REM sleep early in the morning
- Most commonly seen in children between 5 and 12 years old
- Sleepwalkers have no memory of their sleepwalking in the morning
- Sleepwalkers may travel far (like, into the neighbor’s house)
- Sleepwalkers may do extremely abnormal things like, as one sleepwalker told us, go pee in the dishwasher because they thought it was the toilet
- Sleepwalking can be dangerous, as sleepwalkers do not have good understanding of their surroundings and are prone to hurting themselves
Like sleep terrors, if someone is sleepwalking it’s best to remain calm and to try and wake them gently because they may become agitated and confused.
Overview of Sleep Paralysis
Sleep paralysis is exactly what it sounds like: an inability to move your body or limbs – this occurs as you are falling asleep or when you wake up. These episodes can last anywhere from a few seconds to upwards of a couple of minutes. It can be quite scary for the person who is experiencing the episode.
The Nightmare is thought to be a depiction of sleep paralysis perceived as a demonic visitation.
The causes of sleep paralysis are not known, though it seems to run in families. It can be chronic, or only happen once.
Overview of Catathrenia
Overview of REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD)
REM sleep behavior disorder is likely a parasomnia you haven’t heard of. But if you ever happen to see it in your bed partner or child, you won’t forget it. It occurs mostly in men over 50 years old, though it can occur in women and younger people as well.
RBD is a sleep disorder is where you act out dramatic or violent dreams, such as by moving your body or limbs while dreaming. Unlike sleepwalking and sleep terrors where you don’t remember the episode in the morning, RBD dreams can usually be recalled by sleepers upon waking.
RBD can be a symptom of potentially serious neurological disorders, so if you are potentially experiencing RBD you should seek medical attention right away. Sleep studies will be used to rule out or diagnose RBD.