Parasomnias are a group of sleeping disorders that disturb sleep.
Types of parasomnias include:
- Night terrors
- Sleep drunkenness
- Sleep paralysis
The common symptom of all parasomnias is sleep disturbance. Other symptoms will vary depending on the type of parasomnia and may include:
- Vivid dreams that cause feelings of fear or anxiety
- Waking up screaming or crying from a nightmare
- Appearing awake and walking around when the person is actually asleep
- Waking up confused
- Slow to follow commands after waking up
- Difficulty understanding questions after waking up
- Unable to move the body or limbs when falling asleep or waking up
- Loss of bladder control while sleeping
Symptoms linked to a lack of sleep can include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Awaking suddenly for an unknown reason
- Feeling drowsy
- Increase in daytime seizures triggered by a lack of sleep
Causes and Risk Factors
The cause of parasomnias is often unknown. Certain conditions do appear to run in families, such as sleepwalking.
Children are more likely to experience parasomnias than adults.
Some parasomnias have been linked to:
Parasomnias may go undiagnosed if the condition is not dangerous or disruptive to the patient or their bed partner. If the sleep event is a safety risk, the patient should talk to their doctor. Their doctor may refer them to a sleep specialist.
The sleep specialist will usually ask the patient to keep a sleep diary before making a formal diagnosis of parasomnias. In the sleep diary the patient will write down all of the information about their sleep, nighttime routine and their day for a two-week period.
The specialist will also review any medications the patient is taking.
In some cases, a sleep study may be needed. The sleep study will require the patient to stay overnight at the hospital so that the medical team can monitor the patient's:
- Brain waves
- Heart rate
- Body and limb movement
For many patients no treatment is needed. Children will generally grow out of the parasomnia condition as they get older. When the condition is too disruptive or unsafe for the patient or their bed partner, treatment may be needed.
Treatment may include:
- Minimizing medications that disrupt sleep
- Following a routine during bedtime
- Therapy with a psychologist to address any anxiety or depression
- Creating a safe environment
Some parasomnias can create unsafe conditions for the patient, such as sleepwalking. Patients and their caregivers may need to take steps to ensure their safety during the sleep event. This may include:
- Removing sharp objects from the area
- Blocking access to stairs
- Blocking access to windows
- Bringing the mattress closer to the floor
- Locking doors