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Parasomnias (A Sleep-Related Disorder) - Types, Causes, and Treatment

Published on Jun 27, 2022   -  6 min read


Parasomnias is a sleep disorder that causes abnormal behavior in sleep. This article illustrates the causes, symptoms, and management of this disorder.



A parasomnia refers to a sleep disorder that includes unusual and undesirable behaviors during sleep. Sleep disturbances are one of the most common complaints by patients. A parasomnia can occur before or during sleep or also arousal from sleep. Parasomnia patients have abnormal movements, emotions, talk, or do unusual movements during sleep.

What Are the Different Types of Parasomnias?

Parasomnias are grouped under the stages of sleep in which they happen. There are two main stages of sleep, and they are:

Both rapid and non-rapid eye movement changes in a cycle that lasts about 120 minutes. Non-rapid eye movement stages are further sub-classified into four stages, stage 0, stage 1, stage 2, and stage 3. The initial stages of rapid eye movement last around five to ten minutes, followed by frequent periods. Disturbances in both cycles during continuous sleep or upon transitions to wakefulness are grouped under the term ‘parasomnias.’

What Is the Etiology of Parasomnia?

Recent studies suggest that disturbances in stage 3 slow-wave sleep can increase the probability of this condition. These include:

What Are the Symptoms of Parasomnias?

Common Symptoms of Parasomnias Include:

How Parasomnias Occur in Children?

What Are the Effects of Parasomnias in Non-rapid Eye Movement (NREM) Sleep Arousal Disorders?

Sleep Terrors:

Patients with this sleep disorder wake up suddenly in a terrified state. It usually occurs for about 30 seconds but lasts up to a few minutes. Other features are-

In this disorder, the individual appears to be partially awake but seems to be confused or disoriented to time and place. The duration of this episode may last from a few minutes to hours. It is more common in childhood and may decrease in frequency with increasing age. Other features of this disorder include:

In this disorder, the sleepwalker gets out of the bed and moves with eyes wide open, but actually, the person will be asleep. Patients may talk or mumble (sleep talking) and perform various complex activities such as playing musical instruments or driving or moving furniture. It is too dangerous as a person is unaware of the surroundings and can fall or get hurt by objects on the way.

In this disorder, a person may eat or drink while partially awake. This condition is also dangerous as the patient has chances of eating inedible or toxic foods, which cannot be taken when awake. In addition, there is a possibility of getting injured.

What Are the Effects of Parasomnias in Rapid Eye Movement Disorder?

Rapid eye movement disorder sleep disorders are manifested with eyes moving rapidly under the eyelids, and there is an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. During this duration, vivid dreaming occurs. The sleeping cycle repeats between non-rapid eye movement and rapid eye movements; sleep for about every 90 to 110 minutes. Parasomnias mostly occur in the late part of the night, and hence the person can recall the overall or part of the memory. Parasomnia manifestations include-

What Are the Investigation Procedures for Parasomnia?

The medical history, family history, alcohol use, and drug history are clearly evaluated.

Various sleep disorder tests are carried out and are as follows-

How Are Parasomnias Treated?

Treatments for Non-rapid Eye Movement Sleep Disorders:

Treatments for Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Disorders:


Some causes of parasomnia can be easily managed, whereas parasomnia caused due to neurologic conditions, heredity, and mental illness are managed through various treatment approaches, as discussed. Lifestyle modifications, including sleep routines, are highly focused on getting a better improvement of this disorder.


Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Types of Parasomnias?

Parasomnia is an unusual behavior that occurs during sleep. Their types are listed down:

Rapid-Eye Movement (REM)-

- Nightmare disorders.

- Recurrent sleep paralysis.

- REM- sleep behavior disorder.

Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) -

- Sleepwalking.

- Sleep terrors.

- Confusional arousal.

- Sleep-related abnormal behaviors.


What Causes Parasomnias?

Parasomnia can be caused by a wide variety of factors like:

- Fever.

- Head injury.

- Stress.

- Substance abuse.

- Psychiatric issues.

- Sleep deprivation.

- Medical conditions.

- Medications that are used in the treatment of high blood pressure, psychotic issues, etc.


Can Medications Cause Parasomnia?

Medications are also involved in causing sleep-related problems like parasomnia. These include:

- Anti-hypertensives such as Metoprolol, Propranolol, etc.

- Anti-allergic drugs like Montelukast.

- Amitriptyline, Paroxetine, Bupropion, etc., are used to treat depression.

- Other drgs such as Benzodiazepine, Topiramate, Fluoroquinolones, etc.


What Are the Triggering Factors of Parasomnia?

The below-mentioned factors can trigger parasomnia:

- Substance abuse (alcohol).

- Sleep disorders.

- Anxiety.

- Depression.

- Specific medications.

- Neurological disorders (multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, etc.).


What Are the Clinical Features of Parasomnia?

An individual with parasomnia might have the following symptoms:

- Seem to be confused while waking up.

- Disoriented.

- Fatigue.

- Feeling tired throughout the day.

- Disturbed sleep.

- Several strange bruises on the body.

- Forgetfulness.


What Causes Parasomnia in a Child?

Parasomnia may commonly occur during childhood. The factors that trigger parasomnia in a child are as follows:

- Stress.

- Specific medications.

- Genetic causes.

- Poor sleep.

- Obstructive sleep apnea can also cause parasomnia in children.


Which Is the Most Common Type of Parasomnia?

The non-rapid eye movement (NREM) is the most common type of parasomnia. It is more prevalent among children than in adults. These types of parasomnia are characterized by:

- Incomplete arousal.

- Confused after wake-up.

- Sleepwalking.

- Poor or lack of response to other people.

- The affected individual may sleep in between the sleep.


How Is Sleep Parasomnia Treated?

Sleep parasomnia is mainly treated by identifying and removing the cause. Other additional management includes:

- To maintain a proper sleep routine.

- Avoiding alcohol consumption.

- Relaxation therapy.

- Psychotherapy.

- Medications such as Clonazepam and Melatonin are also used in treating parasomnia.


What Should I Know About Parasomnia Epilepsy?

Parasomnia and epilepsy may occur during sleep due to several neurological conditions.

Parasomnia usually does not require specific treatment as they may go on their own. But the epileptic events that occur during sleep may resemble parasomnia, and it is difficult to distinguish both. Therefore the specialist may order a video electroencephalogram or polysomnography for the correct diagnosis.


How Is Melatonin Related to Parasomnia?

The parasomnia sleeping disorder can be treated with Melatonin, available in capsules, pills, and liquid form. Generally, the melatonin hormone is secreted naturally in the body. However, poor melatonin secretion leads to parasomnia due to specific abnormalities or shift workers. Therefore, Melatonin supplements might help improve total sleep and are also used in children with other conditions such as epilepsy, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), etc.


Is Parasomnia a Mental Illness?

Parasomnia is not considered a mental illness but is more common among individuals with mental disorders. In addition, the medications used to treat mental disorders also may trigger parasomnia in specific individuals. The following forms of parasomnia commonly occur in a person with mental illness:

- Sleep paralysis.

- Nightmares.

- Sleep-related eating disorder.

- Sleep behavior disorder.


At What Stage of Sleep Do Parasomnias Happen?

Parasomnia may occur before or during sleep. However, it is mainly found to happen in the latter part of sleep. In addition, people may experience the symptoms at the time of arousal. Parasomnia or the sleeping disorder is usually linked with rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. During the REM phase, which lasts 90 minutes, people may experience intense dreams, high heart rate, and rapid eye movements.


Is Insomnia Considered Parasomnia?

Parasomnia and insomnia are sleep disorders. In parasomnia, the affected individual may have abnormal behaviors during sleep and might feel confused and forget activities that happen during sleep. In contrast, insomnia causes difficulty in sleeping, and a person may feel tired throughout the day. Sleeping disorders may be triggered by stress, anxiety, neurological abnormalities, and other chronic conditions. The specialist may suggest several methods and medications to achieve proper sleep in both disorders.


Is Sleep Apnea and Restless Leg Syndrome Considered a Parasomnia?

- Sleep apnea is characterized by difficulty in sleeping and improper breathing. The affected individual may snore loudly and feel tired due to improper sleep.

- Restless leg syndrome is characterized by the uncontrolled movement of legs while sitting or lying down. It may occur as a result of genetic factors or other neurological conditions.

- Both of these conditions may disturb sleep and cause parasomnia in specific individuals. But, they are not themselves considered parasomnia.


Does Parasomnia Go Away Independently?

Parasomnia may greatly disturb mental and physical health. It causes confusion, disorientation, unusual bruises, and fatigue after arousal. However, these symptoms may resolve on their own by maintaining a proper sleep routine, relaxation therapy, and rarely through medications. Nevertheless, it is essential to consult a specialist to know certain safety precautions to prevent injuries and falls during parasomnia.

Last reviewed at:
27 Jun 2022  -  6 min read




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