Parasomnias (Sleep Disorders)

Do you or your child suffer from sleepwalking, sleep talking, or other confusing sleep behavior? You could be dealing with a parasomnia. Parasomnias are a category of disruptive sleep disorders, in which a variety of undesired events occur while sleeping, falling asleep, or waking up.

Parasomnias tend to have unwanted movements, thoughts, or perceptions. Parasomnia episodes tend to occur from activity during REM sleep or partial arousal during non-REM sleep.

Parasomnias can lead to sleep deprivation and emotional turmoil. At Emerald Sleep Disorders Center, our sleep physician, Dr. Dainis Irbe is experienced in diagnosing and treating sleep disorders, so patients can have healthy sleep.

What Causes Parasomnia?

Parasomnias can be caused by a variety of factors. However, for the most part, parasomnia sleep disorders are genetic. The cause of your parasomnia depends on your specific type of sleep disorder, or they can be caused by medication or other sleep disorders, like sleep apnea. Parasomnias tend to be more common in children, affecting up to 30% of children at some point in their lives.

Types of Parasomnias

As we mentioned earlier, there are multiple kinds of sleep disorders with multiple causes. These are the most common types of sleep disorders:

  • Nightmares. You’ve most likely experienced an emotionally distressing nightmare from time to time. Nightmares are vivid experiences that occur during sleep, surrounded by feelings of terror and anxiety. Oftentimes, when someone wakes up in the middle of a nightmare, they are able to give full details of the event. After experiencing a distressing nightmare, it can be difficult to fall back asleep.

    The most common causes for nightmares include illness, anxiety, the death of a loved one, or a bad reaction to medication. When you or your child’s nightmares occur more than once in a week, we recommend calling our office for medical advice.
  • Night terrors. Night terrors can be an incredibly traumatizing experience, causing the sufferer to abruptly awake from sleep in a terrified state. During night terrors, the affected person will look like they are awake, but they will not be able to communicate or respond to voices, and it will be difficult to wake them up fully. Night terrors can last for about 15 minutes. After an episode is over, the person will usually lay back down and go to sleep. People with night terrors don’t remember the experience in the morning. Due to limb movements during night terrors, people experiencing night terrors can be a danger to themselves and others.

    This parasomnia is more common in children, affecting about 5% of children. It is also believed that night terrors are genetic. When occurring in adults, they tend to be linked to emotional turmoil or the use of alcohol.
  • Sleepwalking. During sleepwalking episodes, people move around as if they are awake, but are actually still asleep. Like night terrors, sleep walkers typically have no memory of their episodes. Sleepwalking happens during deep non-REM sleep early in the night or during REM sleep in the early morning, and it’s usually seen in kids around the ages of 8 to 12. However, sleepwalking can also take place in children younger than this age group or adults.

    It’s believed that sleepwalking is a genetic sleep disorder. There’s currently a misconception that it is dangerous to wake someone up who is sleepwalking, but this is not true. After waking someone up from a sleepwalking episode, the person sleepwalking will be confused and disoriented. Sleepwalking can be dangerous, when the person sleepwalking is at risk of bumping into objects or falling down.
  • Sleep talking. Sleep talking is a sleep disorder, in which someone makes sounds or even long speeches while they are asleep. Sleep talking is not a dangerous parasomnia, but it can wake up or disturb the people witnessing someone sleep talking. Oftentimes, sleep talking is triggered by emotional turmoil, other sleep disorders, or fever.
  • Sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder that occurs during the period of falling asleep or waking up. During sleep paralysis episodes, people are not able to move their arms, legs, or body. Sleep paralysis can be a scary event, since sufferers often don’t understand what is happening, and they can also experience visual hallucinations. Sleep paralysis episodes can last for a few minutes, until the person experiences sound or physical touch. The precise cause of sleep paralysis is unknown, but it is believed that sleep paralysis is a genetic sleep disorder.
  • Rhythmic movement disorder or “head banging”. Rhythmic movement disorder most often occurs in children around the age of one or younger, before the child has fallen asleep. Typically, a child will lay flat, then lift the head or upper body, and then aggressively hit his head on the pillow.
  • REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD). Patients with REM sleep behavior will have violent and dramatic physical responses during their REM sleep when experiencing violent dreams. In normal REM sleep, people experience reduced muscle tone and sleep paralysis. However, people with this condition are able to move their body and limbs while dreaming. REM sleep behavior disorder tends to occur in men over the age of 50, but can also occur in women and younger people. RBD is different than sleepwalking and sleep terrors in that sufferers can easily recall the dream that triggered the episode.
  • Sleep bruxism. Sleep bruxism, also known as teeth grinding, is an involuntary jaw clenching and teeth grinding during sleep. Teeth grinding often occurs alongside other sleep disorders, and it can put excessive pressure on your teeth and jaw muscle. The best way to cope with sleep bruxism is getting a custom mouth guard to lessen the pressure of your teeth scraping against one another.
  • REM sleep cardiac arrhythmias. Cardiac arrhythmias occur when there’s a change in your normal heart rate, due to heart contractions. Patients with coronary heart disease and sleep apnea patients are more likely to experience heart arrhythmias during REM sleep.

Diagnosing Parasomnias

If you think you have any of the above sleep disorders, it’s important to see a sleep specialist as soon as possible. At Emerald Sleep Disorders Center, we will need to perform a series of tests and take an extensive assessment of your health to diagnose your parasomnia.

During your initial diagnosis phase, we will also make sure you don’t have any other sleep disorders and look for conditions that might be affecting your sleep. We also might need to conduct an in-lab sleep study to analyze your brain waves, heartbeat, and breathing while you sleep, as well as analyze your arm and leg movement or record your sleep behavior on video.

Treating Parasomnias at Emerald Sleep Disorders Center

Dr. Dainis Irbe is a trained neurologist and sleep specialist in Eugene, OR with extensive knowledge in treating parasomnias. Depending on the type of sleep disorder you are dealing with, we might recommend a variety of treatments. In most cases, we will recommend medication, behavioral therapy, or lifestyle changes to get your sleep disorder under control. Schedule an appointment with our board certified sleep doctor today at 541-683-3325 to learn more.