Parasomnia (Sleep Disorder): Understanding the Basics

Parasomnia (Sleep Disorder): Understanding the Basics

Photo Credit: Amen Clinics

What is parasomnia?

Parasomnia is a sleep disorder – one that causes abnormal sleep behavior. Parasomnia can be experienced at any stage of sleep. It even occurs when a person is transitioning from wakefulness to sleep.

A person who has parasomnia may talk, move around, or do many unusual things in his or her sleep. Observers may think you’re awake, but the truth is, you’re just unconscious. In many cases, the individual doesn’t remember the incident.

Parasomnias are common, no doubt, but they make it hard for a person to sleep restfully. Also, it isn’t you alone who suffers the effect of this. People who live with you may have their sleep disrupted.

It is also worth noting that some parasomnias can be dangerous because you are just not aware of your surroundings. It also has side effects, such as psychological stress.

Parasomnia, just like every other sleep disorder, is treatable. This article discusses parasomnia in detail. Read on to learn more about this condition.

Types of parasomnia

In some cases, this condition manifests in the first half of the night, mostly during non-REM sleep. Others may show up during REM sleep, that’s later in the night.


It is also known as somnambulism. A sleepwalker walks around in his or her sleep. It is the commonest type of parasomnia. Somnambulism may also involve talking during sleep or doing regular daily activities around the house.

Most sleepwalking happens early in the night. Sometimes, it happens when a person is napping at noon.

Sleep talking

In physiological terms, sleep talking is known as somniloquy. It is another common type of parasomnia.

A sleep talker may mumble or even engage in full conversations while asleep.

Sleep talking, unlike sleepwalking, can happen at any time in the night. The talking that goes on during sleep is easily understood if it happens during the lighter stage of sleep.

Groaning during sleep

The loud groaning that happens during sleep is known as catathrenia. It usually occurs when a person exhales in a slow and deep pattern. The sound of groaning differs. It includes:

  • Loud humming
  • Roaring
  • Cracking sounds with a high pitch.

Many times, an observer may mistake the catathrenia for snoring. However, catathrenia, unlike snoring is not related to breathing problems.


Nightmares are frightening and troubling dreams that trigger anxiety, anger, or fear. If you have nightmares frequently, then the condition is referred to as nightmare disorder.

Nightmare disorder can make it hard for a person to get back to sleep. Most times, a person may experience multiple nightmares in a single night.

Most nightmares show up during REM sleep when you have a high chance of dreaming.

Night terrors

A night terror makes a person wake up terrified. The terror can last anywhere between 30 seconds to five minutes.

Other acts associated with night terrors include:

  • Screaming
  • Crying
  • Fast heart rate
  • Skin flushing
  • Sweating

Night terrors involve very little dream activity if any, compared to nightmares.


Another name for bedwetting is nocturnal enuresis. A bedwetter involuntarily pees on the bed while asleep. It is very common in kids, mostly those under 6 years of age.

Most times, bedwetting happens when the bladder is overfilled. Other times, bedwetting may be due to a urinary tract infection.

Confusional arousal

This is a condition in which a person wakes in a confused state. You may be unable to understand where you are or what you are doing.

Other behaviors typical of confusional arousal include:

  • Poor memory
  • Slow speech
  • Slow reaction time
  • Crying

Teeth grinding

Teeth grinding during sleep is also known as sleep bruxism. Bruxism can cause:

  • Pain that looks like an earache
  • Soreness in the neck, face, or jaw
  • Sensitivity or pain in the tooth.

Sleep-related eating disorder

Sleep-related eating disorder means binge drinking or eating during non-REM sleep. A person in this condition may be fully or partly conscious.

Most episodes of binge eating recur. Specific behaviors include:

  • Eating and drinking fast
  • Weird food combinations or consumption of unusual foods (a stick of butter for example)
  • Eating uncooked meat and other toxic foods

REM sleep behavior disorder

You will dream vividly, and then act them out when you’re having REM sleep.

It differs from sleep terrors or sleepwalking, where the person is typically confused. In REM sleep behavior disorder, you wake with ease and recall the dream.

Examples of RBD behaviors are:

  • Punching
  • Grabbing
  • Shouting
  • Jumping
  • Kicking

Other less common parasomnias include:

  • Sleep texting
  • Head exploding syndrome
  • Sexsomnia
  • Sleep driving
  • Sleep-related scratching and hallucinations

Causes of parasomnia

Several factors may contribute to the onset of parasomnia. Potential triggers of parasomnia include:

How about parasomnia in children?

The condition is more prevalent in children than in adults. It occurs commonly in children with underlying psychiatric or neurological conditions, like ADHD or epilepsy.

Child parasomnia may also be triggered by factors like sleep deprivation and stress.

But then, most cases of child parasomnia are attributed to their immature sleep-wake cycle. The implication is that the boundaries between sleep and wakefulness is not fully developed, leading to a mixed state of consciousness.

Most children are relieved of it by the time they grow into adolescence. Child parasomnia is more characterized by fear and crying, compared to adults. Children may be reluctant to sleep alone.

If you notice that your child has abnormal sleeping behaviors, understand that it is not being done on purpose. Instead of meting out punishment, why not support them?

For instance, if they wet their bed, teach them to use the bathroom before sleep time.

Symptoms of parasomnia

Apart from the typical unusual behavior experienced by the parasomnia patient, other symptoms include:

  • Waking up disoriented or confused
  • Waking up wondering where you are
  • Inability to recall doing certain activities
  • Finding strange cuts on your body
  • Fatigue or sleepiness in the daytime
  • Being unable to sleep throughout the night


Parasomnia can be diagnosed by a primary care doctor. You may be referred to a sleep specialist, who will carry out further examinations on your sleep pattern and behavior.

Diagnosis includes:

  • Taking your medical history
  • Taking your sleep history.
  • A polysomnogram.

Treatment for parasomnia

Treatment depends on the severity and of course, on the type of parasomnia. The following treatments might be recommended:

Medications: Medications are prescribed if your parasomnia is recurring. The best choice of medications depends on your symptoms. Medications that may be used for treatment include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Topiramate
  • Melatonin
  • Dopamine agonists
  • Levodopa
  • Benzodiazepines

However, if your symptoms are caused by a medication, you will be placed on an alternative medication or a different dose. Never stop your medication unless authorized by your doctor.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy: It is a common treatment for parasomnia. The reason for this is because parasomnia has a thing or two to do with mental health concerns, such as anxiety stress.

Other methods of treatment that work well with CBT include:

  • Hypnosis
  • Relaxation therapy
  • Psychotherapy


Somehow, parasomnia makes it hard for a person to sleep well. It also increases the risk of health problems and accidents due to poor rest habits. The good news is that parasomnia can be treated. So, if you notice that your sleep pattern is becoming more unusual, consult a sleep doctor. They will check the underlying causes and treat you appropriately.

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