Parasomnia is what people refer to when describing any kind of abnormal sleep behaviour, excluding sleep apnea. It includes different symptoms, of which the majority doesn’t cause any harm or damage to the person experiencing parasomnia.
Parasomnia often prevents a restful and refreshing night’s sleep and can lead to an increased level of stress. By being a steady disruption of sleep, people suffer from tiredness and an inability to concentrate during the day.
In addition to the above you might experience some more serious consequences of Parasomnia, which can result in damage to yourself and long-term effects you’ll definitely want to avoid. Those often require medical help.
In order to distinguish different kinds of Parasomnia, it is divided into two different types:
Non-REM and REM parasomnia.
REM Parasomnia and Symptoms
These are referred to as symptoms, which happen in a later stage of the night – in the REM sleep phase. There are different kinds of REM Parasomnia, but the most common ones are the following:
RBD (Rem sleep behaviour disorder)
RBD is a sleep disorder leading to the so called “acting out” of dreams. The body fails to activate the state of paralysation and therefore people start to live their dreams, which mainly happens during the REM phase.
It is associated with a mental disorder and tends to get stronger as time passes. Episodes start rarely and to an extend which isn’t very noticeably at first, but continue to escalate quickly. The first person to notice them is usually the “bed partner”.
It is not a direct threat to the wellbeing of the person, however the uncontrollable punches and kicks can harm both the person experiencing it as well as the “bed partner”.
It often disrupts the sleep to such an extent, that a restful and healthy sleep is no longer possible. Thus, seeking a doctor or sleep specialist is highly recommended, when suffering from RBD.
Is a state of being awake, while being partly asleep. But how does this work?
People experiencing sleep paralysis are in a state of being awake, but are still unable to move nor speak. The muscles don’t react to the brain signals trying to reach the receptors. Therefore, it is also referred to as a “frozen” state. It is also often accompanied by hallucinations, such as the sense or even the appearance of a frightening presence in the room.
People that suffer under sleep paralysis often report from monsters standing in the corner of their room. This state usually lasts from a few seconds to up tol several minutes, which is as you can imagine a highly uncomfortable situation. It ends randomly or by the touch of another person.
Sleep paralysis is not directly dangerous, but obviously very upsetting and frightening, therefore it is definitely recommended to see a specialist.
All of us know how upsetting a horrible dream can be and most of us got up in the middle of the night before, bathed in sweat, due to a nightmare.
Some people experience this very frequently and therefore are hindered to get a healthy sleep during the night.
It also prevents you from falling asleep, as it heavily increases the stress factor, knowing that it is very likely to experience a nightmare once you fell asleep.
This state again is not dangerous to your health, but will undoubtedly be very unpleasant and lead to an increased tiredness the next day. You might also disrupt the sleep of your partner, by waking up screaming in the middle of the night.
These three REM parasomnias are the most faced and treated by doctors. However, these are not the most common Parasomnias but they have a very high level of sleep disruption, which is why most people experiencing these see a doctor. There are several others common parasomnias, which are not treated by doctors, because the symptoms are not as bad and patients thus don’t see a doctor.
Some examples are sleep talking, sleep groaning, bedwetting and teeth grinding.
Non-REM Parasomnia and Symptoms
These Parasomnias happen in the NREM phases which include Drowsiness, Light sleep and Deep sleep and therefore mostly in the beginning of the night.
The most common types are:
People suffering under this Parasomnia usually act very strange right after waking up. Usually the patient doesn’t remember his actions and has to be reminded by their partner or family. It is, unlike the sleep paralysis, a state of being fully awake and all the motoric functions of the body work properly. However, the memory is blurred and the brain fails to work as normal which leads to a very confused state and sometimes funny and strange behaviour.
Confusional Arousal is caused by a sudden arousal from sleep, due to noises or other circumstances. The person being aroused, starts responding very confused and acting weird. This start can last from a few minutes up to hours. He might respond to direct questions, however the answers mostly won’t make any sense.
It is luckily not dangerous at all and doesn’t have a negative impact on your sleep quality, since it only happens after being aroused.
This is one of the most known sleep Parasomnia thanks to a number of movies. Symptoms lead to the person getting up in the middle of the night and moving around while still being asleep. Eyes are usually opened, but glazed. Thus, the person can’t see and doesn’t notice if other people are standing in the same room.
People experiencing this Parasomnia usually notice it by waking up in different placed, than the ones where they went to sleep the night before.
Reported behaviour ranges from simply walking around the house or opening/closing the fridge and doors, to more complex tasks such as cleaning or moving furniture.
It can last from a few seconds up to several minutes and most of the time “sleepwalkers” have no memory of it.
It is not a health concern itself, however sometimes people lock themselves out by leaving the house or even fall while roaming around. So you should still be careful, when dealing with a sleepwalker and maybe start locking doors so they can’t lock themselves out easily, which can in fact be very dangerous when happening during winter.
As it is a Non-REM Parasomnia it usually happens in the first half of the night. A person experiencing this type of parasomnia starts screaming, crying and shouting in the middle of the night. They experience a highly increased heartbeat and have torn open eyes, as just awoken from a terrible nightmare. It is more horrifying for the bed partner or person observing, than the patient itself, since they usually sleep through it afterwards and have no memory of such terrors.
Some people remember small fractions of a bad dream, but not more than that so it is not dangerous, just horrifying for the bed partner.
This type is very well known recently due to increased media coverage and mainly shown as a side effect of certain medication, which is not entirely true.
While some eating disorder cases might be side effects of medication, they are often just the result of Parasomnia and totally unrelated to any medication.
The patient, being partially awaked, starts to binge eat or drink, usually high calorie food. They tend to eat very uncommon combinations of food, which they would never choose while being awake. This state usually lasts not more than ten minutes and patients usually don’t remember anything of it.
It can be very dangerous, since patients start to eat everything which is available and therefore sometimes eat toxic or uncooked food. They might even accidentally start a fire by trying to cook, which can have severe consequences. In the long term, people additionally suffer from obesity and high levels of cholesterol. It can also lead to psychological consequences, from an increased weight gain. Therefore we recommend, to see a sleep specialist if you experience this kind of sleep parasomnia .
Who Suffers From Parasomnia?
All of these sleep Parasomnias sound pretty unpleasant, right?
Some more some less, but in general they are something you’d want to avoid, if possible. So what causes them and who is most likely to be affected?
Usually children are the most likely to suffer under bedwetting, sleepwalking and sometimes sleep terrors, however they often grow out of these symptoms as time goes by. As an adult the probability to experience such Parasomnias is not very high, unless you consume a significant amount of alcohol or other drugs. The regular abuse of such substances can either increase already existing sleep Parasomnias or lead to some, such as nightmares and sleepwalking.
Other Parasomnias are of an inheritable nature. If your parents tend to have night terrors, you are more likely to experience them too. So sometimes seeing a specialist in these cases is recommendable and the only chance for cure.
They can also be linked to illnesses or potential side effects of medication. In this case you should consider seeing a doctor to change and adjust your medication.
During periods of increased stress, people are much more likely to suffer under sleep Parasomnia, however these symptoms usually vanish as soon as the level of stress is decreased again.