What is Parasomnia

June 25, 2024 · John Gallagher
What is Parasomnia

Explaining Parasomnia: Definition, Causes, & Treatment

If you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night and felt confused or misplaced, you’ve experienced a major symptom of parasomnia. In many cases, these feelings or experiences are simply the byproduct of a poor night of sleep. A poor sleep position, unfamiliar environment, or noise interruption is often to blame for nighttime confusion. However, an estimated 4% of the American population experiences these same symptoms as a result of one or more parasomnias.

What is parasomnia?

Parasomnia is a group of “arousal disorders” that typically occur during periods of non-REM sleep. Symptoms generally occur during the first period of rest as your body approaches deeper sleep. 

Parasomnia is a category of sleep disorders that create confusing, unexpected arousals from a sleep state. These categories can lead to many different types of parasomnias, including:

  • Sleepwalking (somnambulism): A parasomnia that causes sleepers to wake, get out of bed, and perform actions that typically only happen when they’re awake. An estimated 3.6% of adults will sleepwalk, though most people grow out of the condition as they become adults.
  • Sleep talking (somniloquy): Speaking in isolated words, gibberish, or full sentences while asleep. Sleep talkers are generally unaware of their parasomnia. An estimated 4% of adults - and half of all children - experience sleep talking in some form.
  • Night terrors (sleep terrors): Intense episodes of fear that occur from heightened arousal after waking from sleep. They might include fear, screaming, or other natural reactions to anticipated terror. An estimated 2.2% of adults experience some form of sleep terrors.
  • REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD): Behaviors that range from simple hand motions to more severe gestures, as sleepers act out their dreams. In some cases, RBD is caused by substance use habits or withdrawal.
  • Sleep-related eating disorder (SRED): A sleep disorder that causes people to prepare and consume food while sleeping. After waking up, they have little to no memory of their food-related actions from the evening before.

It’s important to note that parasomnias are a complicated, often misunderstood category of sleep disorders. Symptoms can sometimes be unsettling, and the type, severity, and frequency of parasomnia can differ from one person to another.

Like insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy, and other sleep disorders, symptoms can fluctuate. While some people might only experience mild, minor, or occasional episodes, others feel the effects of a parasomnia each day.

What are the symptoms of parasomnia?

The symptoms of parasomnia don’t always make it easier to diagnose. As a group of sleep disorders, symptoms of one parasomnia can sometimes overlap with another.

Symptoms of parasomnia will vary widely, depending on the sleep disorder(s) you face. Here are some of the symptoms you might experience with parasomnia:

  • Confusing after waking up unexpectedly
  • Incomplete or missing memory of sleep events
  • Injuries to yourself or a sleep partner
  • Screaming, shouting, crying, or other emotions as a result of sleep terrors
  • Getting out of bed and performing daytime actions
  • Daytime fatigue after nighttime actions
  • Challenges sleeping throughout the night
  • Dreams with strong, unpleasant emotions

While these are some of the most common byproducts of parasomnia, they certainly aren’t the only symptoms. For example, you might also experience a temporary inability to move or speak as a result of sleep paralysis. If you or someone you know is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it’s important not to self-diagnose. Instead, find a sleep specialist you trust for a diagnosis and treatment options.

How is parasomnia treated?

Like other sleep disorders, parasomnia can affect sleep health. That’s why it’s important to seek treatment if symptoms persist. Parasomnia treatment starts with help from a qualified medical professional. Consult with a sleep specialist you trust to discuss any sleep-related symptoms you’re experiencing. Together, you can arrive at a diagnosis and implement a treatment plan that restores a high quality of life.

Treatment for parasomnia typically depends on the individual symptoms you’re experiencing — and the type of individual sleep disorder you might face. Here are some forms of treatment that sleep specialists commonly recommend for parasomnia:

  • Improve your sleep hygiene: Implement healthy sleep habits, and a proactive sleep routine, that helps you achieve quality sleep on a nightly basis. This also means addressing potentially damaging habits like caffeine and nicotine consumption.
  • Manage stress: Among other mental health factors, stress and anxiety can have a big impact on the quality of your nightly sleep.
  • Medication: Alongside other treatment methods, sleep specialists often recommend medication to minimize some symptoms of parasomnia. Parasomnia medications commonly include benzodiazepines and antidepressants.
  • Behavior therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other forms of therapy can be effective against some parasomnias.
  • Physical safety precautions: It’s also important to limit the effects of physical parasomnia symptoms. This can mean locking away food items, removing tripping hazards from your sleep environment and shutting doors and windows before bed. It should also mean altering any sleep partners to the possibility of parasomnia symptoms.

Treatment for parasomnia typically includes a variety of therapy, lifestyle modification, and medication. Another ingredient — your sleep supplies — should round out your approach to combating parasomnia.

Surrounding yourself with the right sleep supplies is a great next step in your ongoing journey with parasomnia. Use high-quality pillows, blankets, and mattress toppers that allow you to look forward to the evening’s rest.

Of course, it’s also important to use a mattress that appropriately supports your head, neck, back, and limbs. That’s where Mattress Warehouse can help. We’ve created a patented sleep diagnostic program, bedMATCH, that can help pair you with mattress options created for sleepers like you.

We’ve replaced traditional mattress purchasing with a two-step process that’s fast and pressure-free. First, visit your local Mattress Warehouse to try our free bedMATCH program. In five minutes, the system will analyze your sleep features — from your preferred sleep position to your height, weight, and body type. Next, the system recommends mattress options at every price point that meet your individual needs.

Even if you can’t make it to a physical Mattress Warehouse location, you can take the online bedMATCH quiz to browse mattress options right now — to put even more distance between parasomnia and the high-quality sleep you deserve.