All about parasomnia – Everything you need to know about it
It is probably quite scary to know that you are doing strange actions in your sleep. Furthermore, it might even get annoying to know that you are becoming a reason for the trouble of a lot of people around you. Doing actions like trying to psychically follow what you saw in your dreams, waking up confused and scared, walking, talking or doing other strange actions in your sleep, and so on, seem to be obvious symptoms of the sleep disorders that are referred to as parasomnia. So, let us take a look at what is parasomnia.
What is parasomnia and what it involves?
According to the parasomnia definition, the condition involves abnormal behaviors, movements, perceptions, emotions, and strange occurrence of dreams, that is, starting to dream as soon as you fall asleep, between your sleep stages, while sleeping, or even after trying to wake up after sleeping. The parasomnia definition further mentions that the condition includes things which may sound rather scary to you like sleepwalking, night terrors, nightmares, confusional arousals, as well as many others.
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A scientific look at the parasomnia definition
Scientifically speaking, the term “parasomnia” refers to doing all the things while sleeping which would seem obviously abnormal or strange to the people around you, except a completely different disorder known as sleep apnea. The parasomnia definition mentions that the condition can include, besides the ones already mentioned above, some even terrible things like sleep paralysis, REM sleep behavior disorder, sleep-related eating disorders, sleep aggression (quite a challenging situation to deal with), and so on. Now though these disorders actually exist only during the nighttime or while sleeping at any other time, these seem to be having negative effects on the affected people even during the daytime when they are wide awake. One of the most common effects of such disorders, while one is awake, is sleepiness. People suffering from parasomnia may always be living with the feeling that they haven’t managed to catch enough sleep and feel sleepy.
Now, after knowing about what is parasomnia, let us take a look at some of its most common types of disorders.
Non-rapid eye movement parasomnia, also known as NREM
The NREM parasomnia is a type of arousal disorders that usually occur during the stage 3, or sometimes, the stage 4 by the R&K standardisation of NREM sleep, the other word for which is slow wave sleep (SWS). These disorders are caused by quite a strange activity in the patient’s brain. What actually happens is that the patient’s brain exits from the SWS, or the slow wave sleep, and gets caught up between a sleeping and waking state. These disorders are actually observed when the motor system, autonomic nervous system, or cognitive processes get activated during sleep or sleep-wake transitions.
Some particular NREM parasomnias that are quite common, especially during the childhood include night-terrors, sleep-walking and confusional arousal. However, these are also usually observed to decrease in frequency with increasing age. Some specific causes of these disorders are alcohol consumption, emotional stress, medications, fevered illness, sleep deprivation or even some physical activity.
This is a bit more specific type of parasomnia disorder. It means terrible nighttime events that may make the patient lose his sleep or wake up abruptly. These are actually caused by the feelings of terror, fear, and/or anxiety. Quite often, the people suffering from these disorders are found to wake up abruptly from REM (Rapid eye movement) sleep in the middle of the night in a scared state.
Furthermore, the patients suffering from these particular disorders can describe their whole dream almost completely, which a normal person would usually find challenging to even describe a part of. After one experiences these disorders, they find it difficult to return to sleep. Also, it isn’t a good sign if such disorders happen to one more than once a week. Now it obviously isn’t a good sign even if they happen just once a week, but maybe that means that the condition isn’t very serious. However, when such disorders start taking place more than once a week, it means that the condition is getting serious and immediate help should be sought from the doctor.
Some of the common causes of these disorders are believed to be illness, loss of a loved one, anxiety, or even due to negative reactions to a particular medication. There are quite a lot of other factors as well that are known to cause these disorders, but these seem to be the most common ones.
Though these are a bit similar to nightmares, they are quite a lot of things that differ from the latter. The patients experiencing night terrors usually wakes up in a terrified and utterly scared state, and seem confused as well as unable to speak about anything. They usually also don’t respond to others voices and can seem quite difficult to fully awaken. Such a state of the patients lasts for about 15 minutes, after which they may fall asleep again. Also, during the next morning, they usually don’t remember a single thing about what they did or what happened the last night. These disorders are considered to be a bit more dangerous than nightmares, as the patients suffering from these may pose a danger to themselves as well as the people around them.
Though usually found in children of the age 3 to 8, even adults in families in which these disorders run from a long time can experience these disorders. The patients may even talk or walk in their sleep. Also known as sleep terrors, they usually seem to be caused by strong emotional stress or use of alcohol. If anything is widely common among the both nightmares and night terrors, it is that alcohol turns out to be quite a big cause for both of them.
Sleepwalking is a type of parasomnia disorder where the patient seems to be perfectly awake and moving around, but is actually in his sleep. Yes, regardless of how strange it sounds, while suffering from this particular parasomnia disorder, the patient walks in their sleep and seem to be wide awake, when he or she is actually not. In fact, such people won’t even remember anything about their actions when they actually wake up. It usually seems to occur during non-REM sleep, especially during the stages 3 and 4 early in the night. It also happens during REM sleep but in the early morning. Though usually common among children aged 5 to 12, the sleepwalking disorder can occur even among younger children, adults, as well as seniors.
This is one of those disorders that seem to be passed from generation to generation in a family. There seem to be quite a lot of families that run this disorder from a long time, and almost all the members taking birth in the family are found to be suffering from this disorder. Also, contrary to the popular belief, waking up someone who is suffering from this disorder and walking in his sleep is not dangerous. The most that can happen is that the person will feel confused or disoriented for some time, but will eventually return to the reality, though they may not recollect what has just happened. However, it can actually be dangerous to let such people walk, as they may walk into hard objects or fall down. After all, as this is quite common in children, the risk of falling down while sleepwalking is quite a serious one, and hence proper care needs to be taken when children suffer from such disorders. To your relief, this disorder in children usually stops after they enter their teen years, so this surely may not be something they will have to live with throughout their life.
These are one of the least dangerous parasomnia disorders. They are only found in about 4% of the cases, which usually turns out to be in infants and toddlers. These particular disorders are quite uncommon among adults or even teenagers.
Confusional arousing refers to a state where the person just wakes up confused and remains in the same state for some time. This can last anywhere from a few seconds to some minutes. During the early stages of these disorders, the patients show large amounts of movement and even moaning. However, though this may not sound very serious, but it may progress to its later stages which are marked by inconsolable crying or even occasional thrashing. The person suffering from this particular disorder may go to sleep again after the disorder loses its effect. Though not very serious, it requires paying serious attention if it progresses to its advanced stages.
There are quite a few other disorders as well that are associated with parasomnia. However, the above given are some of the most common ones, as well as some of the most serious ones. Some other such disorders include teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movements, as well as the sleep-related eating disorder (SRED).
A look at the different type of parasomnia treatment
After understanding what the condition known as parasomnia is, and what are the different disorders associated with it are, let us move on to discovering the various parasomnia treatment one can look forward to in order to deal with the condition. Some of the seemingly most effective parasomnia treatment methods are:
Changing sleeping habits
Well, though this may sound pretty simple and basic to a lot of you, changing the sleeping habits can go a long way in helping one deal with parasomnia. After all, a lot of times, the condition itself seems to be a result of poor sleeping habits as well as other related problems. Some of the things one should consider changing are:
Ensuring a regular sleep schedule: When you follow a regular sleep schedule, your brain starts getting used to sleeping soundly during that period, and hence the effects of parasomnia might start fading.
Managing stress: A lot of times, excessive stress may turn out to be the primary reason for falling prey to parasomnia. Hence, proper and effective stress management is what people suffering from the condition due to excessive stress should consider going for. This involves changing the mindset to let go off things that make one feel stressed, take off from the workplace for about a week or so, stop getting involved in fights and arguments, and so on. This simple stress management too may go a long way in helping one deal with parasomnia.
Having a relaxed and sound sleep: Besides following a fixed and proper sleeping schedule, one should also ensure that they are being able to sleep in a relaxed way. A lot of times, the patients that suffer from parasomnia are found to be unable to catch some sound and relaxing sleep. This might be due to do a lot of thinking before going to bed, stress, watching TV or doing other such activities which may cause a disturbance in one’s brain, having to deal with too much sound while sleeping, unquiet environment, and so on. Hence, ensuring a quiet environment and emptying brain from all thoughts before going to bed too, seems to be quite an effective way of dealing with parasomnia disorders.
Getting enough sleep: One should find enough sleep according to their health and age, in order to avoid falling prey to serious parasomnia disorders. A lot of times, when one fails to get enough sleep for a long time, they become more prone to such sleeping disorders.
Seeking help from a doctor
Till one’s parasomnia is only disturbing them a bit and still well under control, they can consider trying to deal with the condition themselves. However, if it seems to be starting to get out of hand and becomes so serious that the person suffering from parasomnia as well as the others around them feel at constant risk of getting injured, immediate help should be sought from the doctor.
One should also consider consulting a doctor if they are facing some of the more serious parasomnia disorders like nightmares, night terrors, and so on. After all, when one suffers from such serious parasomnia disorders, it means that the condition they are suffering from is getting serious and can progress to an even dangerous state if not taken care of immediately.
Similarly, even if someone suffering from parasomnia isn’t suffering from some of the very serious disorders associated with the condition, but the occurrence of such disorders is getting rather frequent, then such people too should consider consulting a doctor or other related therapist.
The sleep physician medicine
When you consult a doctor of the related field, probably the sleep physician, they will recommend you some specific medicine for helping you deal with parasomnia. These medicines might probably be available only on their prescription, and patients should ensure that their instructions are being followed extremely thoroughly. After all, the misuse of such medicine might result in some even more terrible problems, and hence one should always ensure that they are following the physician’s instructions word to word.
The sleep support team
There also seem to be some groups known as the sleep team or something like that. They help the people suffering from parasomnia in managing the condition, by recommending different therapies.
Some of their popular parasomnia treatment methods include:
Using medication: This is pretty much similar to what your sleep physician does. The medicines recommend by these support groups may be of the same type, but maybe a bit common and not very strong. While going for this particular parasomnia treatment, however, ensure that you are not suffering from any particular allergies that may make you suffer from the side effects of taking such medications.
Behavioural therapy: This particular parasomnia treatment seems to be a speciality of such sleep support groups. These therapies seem to be perfectly natural and free from all side effects. Also, though one may not see a tremendous change in their condition immediately after adopting to these therapies, the results in the long term may well outrank the one achieved by going the medicine and drugs way.
Lifestyle changes: Some of the important things to do while following this particular parasomnia treatment are quitting smoking, stopping the use of alcohol completely, changing your eating habits to eating only fruits, vegetables, and milk. Such changes too, may not help achieve a substantial difference immediately, but may definitely go a long way in helping you deal with parasomnia in the long run.
Some other general parasomnia treatment methods
The below given are rather some general and common parasomnia treatment methods. Regardless of how simple and basic they may seem, they can help avoid extremely risky situations. Some such steps to be taken include:
- Adding locks and alarms on your doors and windows
- Sleeping on the ground floor
- Cleaning your sleeping room of all the things which might make you trip or fall while sleepwalking or suffering from other such disorders.
- Going the drugs way
This is the last but probably the most commonly used treatment method. Most of the people who suffer from a serious parasomnia state usually resort to going the drugs way. However, though consuming such drugs seem to be pretty effective at first, they may turn out to be a money waster as time progresses. After all, such drugs don’t seem to be a long term parasomnia treatment solution, and hence not something to rely completely on. In fact, a very long-term use of such drugs may result in various side effects, making it a hassle to deal with both parasomnia and the side effects caused by such drugs.
Hence, it seems that one of the best ways to go about treating parasomnia is to go for as many natural therapies and treatments as possible before resorting to such harmful drugs and other similar medications.
Just like other serious and common disorders, there is a wide range of parasomnia symptoms as well. However, different types of disorders have different symptoms. Some of the symptoms of the most common types of parasomnia are:
Symptoms for this disorder include experiencing terrifying dreams and waking up in a scared state. The thing that differentiates nightmare disorders from sleep or night terror disorders is the presence of dreams, which isn’t present in the latter.
Sleep or night terror disorder:
The patient suffering from these disorders may wake up suddenly from their sleep while yelling or crying. Furthermore, one also experiences an increased heart and respiratory rate. After waking up, increase in the level of sweating, muscle tone, and flushes is experienced. Such people then feel confused and disoriented, without any clue of what has just happened with them or the reason that caused it.
This is one of the rare few disorders that have a really wide range of symptoms. Its symptoms can range from some really simple ones like waking up and walking aimlessly while sleeping to even driving or eating.
Other general symptoms:
Other general parasomnia symptoms include restless sleep, lethargy, daytime sleepiness, snoring or gasping while sleeping, feeling dull and bored even after sleeping, peevishness, depression, as well as puffiness of the face or swelling of the feet in some cases.
A final word on the parasomnia disorder
After covering things such as what is parasomnia, logical and scientific parasomnia definition, parasomnia treatment, and parasomnia symptoms, let us give a final word on parasomnia as a conclusion.
Usually, such parasomnia disorder isn’t found to be very intense or serious and can be treated at home by following some natural and effective treatment methods. However, in some cases, it can get as serious as becoming a threat to one’s own life as well as of the others around them. Hence, it is quite important to work on treating parasomnia before it advances to its more dangerous and advanced stages.
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