Parasomnia: Definition, Types, Causes and Symptoms

The term parasomnia refers to all the abnormal things that can happen to people while they sleep, in addition to sleep apnea , some examples are sleep-related eating disorder , sleepwalking, nightmares, sleep paralysis, REM sleep behavior disorder and sexonomy, sometimes called “drowsy,” refers to sexual acts performed by a person who is sleeping. Parasomnias can have negative effects on people during the day, including drowsiness.

They can occur when a person is falling asleep or at any point in the sleep cycle, if they occur while falling asleep, a person may experience disturbing hallucinations or sleep paralysis, which is when the body cannot move for seconds or minutes, which It can be quite scary, especially when it occurs with hallucinations.

Parasomnias that occur during sleep, such as REM sleep behavior disorder, often involve vigorous and harmful behaviors that represent dreams, this is a brain disorder that generally occurs in men over 50 years of age, but can affect people of any age taking certain medications, such as antidepressants, and people with neurological disorders , such as Parkinson’s disease , narcolepsy, or stroke. Other parasomnias that occur during sleep include nightmares and sleep-related moans, which can be loud and prevent a person’s bed partner or roommate from sleeping.

Additionally, there are parasomnias that occur when a person has abrupt and partial awakenings, such as confusional excitations, sleepwalking, night terrors, and sleep-related eating disorders.

Sleep-related hallucinations can also occur when a person wakes up.

Types of parasomnias

There are multiple types of sleep disorders with multiple causes, these are the most common types:


You have most likely experienced an emotionally distressing nightmare from time to time, as these are vivid experiences that occur during sleep, surrounded by feelings of terror and anxiety. Often times when someone wakes up in the middle of a nightmare they can give full details of the event, after experiencing a harrowing nightmare it can be difficult to fall asleep again.

The most common causes of nightmares include illness, anxiety, the death of a loved one, or a bad reaction to medications. Read more about ” Nightmares” .

Night terrors

They can be an incredibly traumatic experience, causing the patient to abruptly awaken from sleep in a terrified state. During night terrors, the affected person will appear to be awake, but will not be able to communicate or respond to voices, and it will be difficult to fully awaken them, these can last about 15 minutes. After an episode ends, the person usually lies down and goes to sleep and then they do not remember the experience in the morning.

Due to the movements of the limbs during night terrors, the people who experience it can be a danger to themselves and others.

This parasomnia is more common in children and affects approximately 5% of children, it is also believed to be genetic. When they occur in adults, they tend to be related to emotional confusion or alcohol use. More information on: « Night Terrors «.


During sleepwalking episodes, people move as if they are awake, but are actually still asleep. Like night terrors, sleepwalkers generally have no memory of their episodes, as it occurs during deep non-REM sleep early at night or during REM sleep early in the morning, and is seen in children between the ages of 8 and 12 years. However, it can also occur in children under this age group or adults.

Sleepwalking is believed to be a genetic sleep disorder, there is currently a misconception that it is dangerous to wake someone who is sleepwalking, but this is not true. After waking someone up from an episode of sleepwalking, the sleepwalker will be confused and disoriented, it can be dangerous when the sleepwalker is at risk of bumping into objects or falling. Get more information about: “Sleepwalking” .


It refers to talking while you sleep, it is a sleep disorder , in which someone makes sounds or even long speeches while they are asleep. It is not a dangerous parasomnia, but it can wake up or annoy people who witness someone sleeping talking. It is often triggered by emotional turmoil, other sleep disturbances, or fever, and when the person is fully awake, they have no memory of this session. Read and learn more about: «Somniloquia».

Sleep paralysis

It occurs during the period of falling asleep or waking up, during the episodes, people are unable to move their arms, legs or body, which can be a scary event, as patients many times do not understand what is happening and may also experience visual hallucinations. The episodes can last a few minutes, until the person experiences a physical or audible touch. The exact cause is unknown, but sleep paralysis is believed to be a genetic sleep disorder. Visit the full article on “Sleep paralysis.”

Rhythmic movement disorders

It occurs mainly in children who are one year old or younger, who may lie down, lift their head or upper body, and then hit it hard on the pillow. Rhythmic movement disorder, which has also been called “head banging,” can involve movements such as swinging the hands and knees and occurs just before a person falls asleep. Complete article on: «Rhythmic Movement Disorder».

REM sleep behavior disorder

Patients with this disorder will have dramatic and violent physical responses during REM sleep when experiencing violent dreams.

In normal REM sleep, people experience reduced muscle tone and sleep paralysis. However, people with this condition can move their body and limbs while dreaming. REM sleep behavior disorder tends to occur in men over the age of 50, but it can also occur in women and younger people. It is different from sleepwalking and sleep terrors because sufferers can easily recall the dream that triggered the episode. Read more about: “REM sleep behavior disorder.”

night bruxism

Also known as teeth grinding, it is an involuntary jaw clenching and teeth grinding during sleep and often occurs in conjunction with other sleep disorders, and can put excessive pressure on the teeth and jaw muscle. The best way to deal with this is to get a custom mouth guard to decrease the pressure of your teeth against each other. More information at: Night bruxism.


It is a condition in which a person, while sleeping, engages in sexual activities such as masturbation, having sex with someone, fondling others or himself or, in extreme cases, engaging in rape or sexual assault. Get more information about: « Sexsomnia «.

Nocturnal seizures

These seizures occur only while you sleep, and can resemble a confusional arousal event, with a nocturnal seizure you may cry, fall out of bed, or hit your limbs. This seizure disorder will need to be properly evaluated as with most seizure disorders, it can be treated with medication. Most primary care physicians will be able to evaluate someone who has a sleep disorder, however, if they conclude that the disturbance is complex, they may refer a person to a sleep specialist for further evaluation. Read the full article: “Nocturnal seizures.”

Sleep enuresis

It is when the person cannot control urinary desires during sleep and usually occurs in children, but it can continue even into adulthood. This disorder also runs in the family. More information in: «Sleep enuresis».

Causes and risk factors of parasomnia

Different medical conditions, as well as physical and mental problems are associated with parasomnia as its causes, among the most common such as nightmares and night terrors, illness, a negative reaction to drugs and medications or even the loss of a loved one.

Sometimes it is caused by genetic reasons, if the disorder runs in the family, the sibling or children will have it. In some cases, it is also caused by other medical conditions or diseases such as urinary tract infections, diabetes, or sleep apnea .

The risk factors are:

The children are more likely to experience parasomnias as bedwetting or sleepwalking and sometimes night terrors. They often grow out of these conditions.

Use of alcohol or drugs. By taking or using substances on a regular basis, you increase your chances of experiencing night terrors or sleepwalking. Alcohol and drugs can also make other parasomnias you already have worse.

Some medications list certain parasomnias among their possible side effects.

Other health problems, as this condition may be related to other diseases, disorders, or conditions; for example, people with Parkinson’s disease also have REM sleep behavior disorder.

During periods of stress , some (children and adults) may temporarily experience a parasomnia, such as sleepwalking or sleep talk. Symptoms often go away when stress resolves on its own, if you’ve been through trauma, you’re more likely to experience a nightmare disorder.

Symptoms of parasomnia

Parasomnia refers to any type of sleep-related disorder that occurs while going to sleep, during the cycle, or when you wake up from sleep. Symptoms may differ in different individuals, but the most common seen in them are:

  • Confusion and disorientation upon awakening from sleep.
  • Waking up suddenly and partially.
  • Sleep arousal with complex motor behaviors.
  • Sleepwalking.
  • Appearance of sleep paralysis.
  • Grinding your teeth while sleeping is also a sign of Parasomnia.
  • Nightmares and night terrors.
  • Hallucinations

Treatment for parasomnia

Medical disorders, psychiatric disorders, and stress can precipitate or aggravate parasomnias, a careful history of psychosocial stress, alcohol or drug use, and symptoms of depression should be obtained. In addition, a detailed mental status examination should be performed. Patients who have an underlying psychological or psychiatric disorder should be seen by a psychologist or psychiatrist, and appropriate therapy should be offered.

Counseling can be helpful for psychological disorders that lead to insomnia and the practice of relaxation techniques.

Set a regular bedtime, but don’t go to bed if you’re feeling wide awake, use the bedroom only to go to sleep. Once in bed, use creative imagery and relaxation techniques to keep your mind off restless thoughts, avoid staying in bed for long periods of time while awake, or going to bed out of boredom, relax by reading, taking a bath or listening to soft music before bedtime.


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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.

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