If we were to take the word ‘parasomnia’ and dissect the meaning, we get ‘para’ which means incorrect, abnormal, irregular; and ‘somnia’ which means sleep – we get incorrect, abnormal, irregular sleep. Parasomnia can be defined as a disorder characterized by abnormal or unusual behavior of the nervous system during sleep. That, definitely, sounds like incorrect sleep to me. For something as simple as sleep or at least it should be something simple, it sure does have quite a few complications.

While there are many things that fall into the parasomnia category, there are a few that I would like to discuss in detail: sleepwalking, REM sleep behavior disorder, nightmares, night terrors, nocturnal sleep –related eating disorder, and teeth grinding.

Sleepwalking (or somnambulism) is pretty self explanatory – you are very much asleep, but are actively moving around, walking. Most sleep walkers find themselves waking up in another room entirely, and have no memory of how or when they got there. The behavior of sleepwalkers is very erratic – it can range from cool as a cucumber to crude and violent. Sleepwalking is mostly seen in children, but is not uncommon among adults. In fact, it is estimated that about 4% of American adults sleepwalk. Those who suffer from this parasomnia typically do not remember anything that occurred while in the sleepwalking state.

REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) can be much more dangerous then sleepwalking. As its name suggests, the person suffering from this disorder is in REM sleep – what makes them dangerous is that they are acting out whatever it is they are dreaming. RBD is typical among males 50 years or older, but is not uncommon among women. RBD is quite different from sleepwalking – there is no walking around, or leaving your bed and going into another room. However, patients who suffer from this disorder tend to have some violent tendencies throughout the night – kicking, punching, etc.

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Nightmares are something, I think, that everyone experiences from time to time, but a nightmare disorder is something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. A nightmare disorder is when you have recurrent nightmares to where is disturbs your sleep. What gets to those who suffer from this parasomnia is that the dreams are so frequent and vivid that it makes something like sleep – which is meant to be a time for relaxation – seem terrifying. Many people report having severe anxiety when thinking about going to sleep due to the fear of what they may experience.

While nightmares seem like one of the worst parasomnia’s ever, have you heard about night terrors? Night terrors are more common among young children, but around 3% of adults suffer from this parasomnia as well. What usually happens is said person is asleep and lets out an intense, piercing cry. To an outsider looking in at someone experiencing a night terror, they may find that said person looks frightened while asleep – their eyes might be open, they may be thrashing around (kicking, screaming), but they are still completely asleep. Night terrors tend to take place during non-REM sleep which is why most people do not remember ever experience something so fearful.

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Moving on, we have nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder or NSRED for short. This parasomnia may seem like the least of your worries, but the repercussions of this disorder can be quite severe. Aside from weight gain from the extra intake of calories, there is a risk of eating something you are allergic too; you may try to slice an apple or a piece of cake and accidentally hurt yourself in the process. The main thing to be aware of is that people who suffer from NSRED have no idea what is going one while in this state (they are pretty much sleepwalking and sleep eating all at the same time), and they have no memory of binge eating throughout the night.

nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder
Last but not least, is teeth grinding (also known as bruxism). This is something more common than the other parasomnias, but as it can interrupt your sleep severely (not to mention your everyday life), it falls under the classification. Teeth grinding can cause migraines, jaw pain, and, of course, teeth damage. The best solution to this problem is to speak with your dentist – have him/her prescribe a mouth guard, or something of the sort, to help prevent the teeth grinding.

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It is recommended that as observers we should not wake someone experiencing a parasomnia as it can lead to both you and said person getting hurt. The best thing to do is to gently guide the person back to bed. It is a good idea to have door alarms in the instance your parasolmniac decides to take a walk outside – more than likely the noise will wake them up, or will wake you up and you can keep an eye on them.

If you know someone who suffers from any of the parasomnia’s mentioned or even those that were not mentioned please sit them down and have a discussion with them. Let them know that you are there for them and to help them through these things.

For more information on any of the parasomnias mentioned, please see:

If you think that your loved one may suffer from sleep apnea, please see:

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