Parasomnias: Definition and Types

What is Parasomnia?

Parasomnias are types of disruptive disorders that can appear just before you fall asleep, while you sleep, or when you wake up.

Parasomnias include:

are vivid dreams that can cause fear, horror, and fear. They can make you wake up suddenly and find it difficult to get back to sleep. You will probably remember the episode in great detail. Many things can cause nightmares, including illness, anxiety, the loss of a loved one, or reactions to a drug. Talk to your doctor if you have nightmares more than once a week, or if they keep you from sleeping well for a long time.

Night terror

Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, are similar to nightmares, but usually occur during deep sleep. They make you suddenly wake up feeling scared and confused. They cannot speak or respond to voices. You don’t seem to be fully awake.

Episodes of this parasomnia last about 15 minutes, and then you will likely fall asleep again. Most of the time you won’t remember it the next morning.

People with night terrors can pose a danger to themselves or others due to body movements they cannot control. This parasomnia is relatively common in children, usually between the ages of 3 and 8 years.

Adults can also experience night terrors and live in families. High levels of emotional stress and alcohol consumption can make adults more likely to have them.


Sleepwalking is when you move and look awake but actually sleep. You won’t remember it the next . Sleepwalking occurs most often during what is known as deep sleep with non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) early in the night. It can also happen during early morning REM sleep. This parasomnia mainly occurs in children between the ages of 5 and 12 years. It tends to stop when the children reach their teens.

Sleepwalking occurs mostly in families. Waking a sleepwalker isn’t dangerous, but they might be confused when they wake up. Sleepwalking itself can be risky as the person is unaware of where they are and can fall or bump into things.

Confusing excitement

Confusing excitement usually occurs when you wake up from a deep sleep during the first half of the night. This parasomnia, also known as excessive sleep indolence or sleep drunkenness, makes you feel very slow when you wake up. You are slow to respond to commands and may have trouble understanding when someone asks you a question. You probably won’t remember the event the next .

Rhythmic movement disorder

Rhythmic movement disorders usually occur in children under the age of 1, often just before they go to sleep. A child can lie flat, lift their head or torso, and then hit the pillow with their head hard. This parasomnia, which doctors also call headbanging, can also involve movements like rocking on your hands and knees.

Speak in your sleep

Sleep talking is a sleep-wake transitional disorder. This parasomnia is usually not dangerous, but it can disturb bed partners or family members. Sleep conversations can include simple short noises or long speeches. The speaker probably won’t remember doing it. Things like a fever, emotional stress, or other sleep disorders can cause sleep talk.

Nocturnal leg cramps

Nocturnal calf cramps are sudden, uncontrolled muscle contractions at rest. They usually appear in your calves. The cramping feeling can last a few seconds to 10 minutes, but the pain can persist.

Nightly leg camps are often held with middle-aged or elderly people, but anyone can have them. They are different from restless legs syndrome, which usually doesn’t experience cramps or pain.

Sometimes there isn’t a clear trigger for these cramps. Sometimes they are linked to long periods of sitting, dehydration, overworked muscles, or physical problems such as flat feet.

Sleep paralysis

If you have sleep paralysis, you cannot move when you fall asleep or wake up. The paralysis can be partial or complete. Sleep paralysis can run in families, but experts aren’t sure what causes it.

This parasomnia is not dangerous. It can be scary when you don’t know what is happening. A sound or touch can end the episode, allowing you to be moving again within minutes. Some people only have it once, others have it over and over again.

Impaired sleep-related erections

Men usually have erections as part of REM sleep. This parasomnia occurs in men who cannot hold an erect penis while sleeping, which would be rigid enough for sex. Difficulty sleeping with erections can indicate erectile dysfunction.

Painful erections caused by sleep

Rarely are a man’s erections so painful that he wakes up.

Irregular heart rhythms

Arrhythmias is the medical term for an irregular heartbeat. People who have coronary artery disease and who have lower blood oxygen due to sleep-related breathing problems are more likely to have abnormal heart rhythms that occur during REM sleep. Treatment with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) can reduce this risk.

REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD)

REM sleep usually involves sleep paralysis, but people with the parasomnia have dramatic or violent dreams during this phase of sleep. RBD usually occurs in men aged 50 and over. It is different from sleepwalking and sleep terrors in that a person with RBD can be easily woken up and recall vivid details of their dream.

Sleep bruxism (grinding of teeth)

Bruxism is when you grind or clench your teeth badly while sleeping. It can occur along with other sleep disorders. This parasomnia can cause dental problems, including unusual wear and tear on your teeth or discomfort in your jaw muscles. Your dentist can likely provide you with night protection to wear over your teeth while you sleep to keep them from rubbing against each other.

Enuresis (bed-wetting)

People with this parasomnia cannot control their bladder while they sleep. It usually happens in children. There are two types of enuresis. In the primary form, the child never had control of his bladder at night. It runs in families. In secondary enuresis, the person loses control of the bladder after previously having it. Medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, urinary tract infections, and sleep apnea) or psychiatric disorders can cause enuresis.

Exploding Head Syndrome

People with this parasomnia think they hear a noise, such as a pop or explosion, right before they fall asleep or wake up. Some may think they are having a stroke. Getting more sleep can help prevent this from happening.

Nocturnal paroxysmal dystonia (NPD)

This parasomnia could be a form of epilepsy. It can cause seizure-like episodes during non-REM sleep, sometimes several times a night.

Sleep-related eating disorder (SRED)

People with this parasomnia often eat unusual foods such as raw meat or cake mix while they sleep. When they wake up, they only remember fragments or nothing. It does this because of a mixture of wakefulness and non-REM sleep.

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