Parasomnias are events or experiences that disrupt your sleep. They happen while you're sleeping or going between different stages of sleep, as you fall asleep or as you wake up. Parasomnias include:
Most parasomnias happen during the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep stage. Parasomnias are very common in children. Only REM sleep behaviour disorder happens during REM sleep.
Learn about the
stages of sleep.
When you sleepwalk, you get up and move around. You may move suddenly or more slowly. You’re able to do many things that you can do when you’re fully awake, like eating. Your brain is very active but you’re still asleep.
Sleepwalking happens during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. If you sleepwalk, you may remember parts of sleepwalking or you may not remember anything. Sleepwalking is more common in children and often stops when they become an adult.
A confusional arousal is when you appear to be confused or act in a strange or unusual way. With a confusional arousal, you’re actually asleep even though others think you’re awake.
Confusional arousals don’t make you feel afraid or scared. They also don’t cause you to sleepwalk.
Sleep talking is common and is another type of parasomnia. It can happen during any sleep stage and many times during the same sleep.
When you sleep talk, others may not be able to understand or make sense of what you’re saying. Sleep talking may not need to be treated, but it’s sometimes a sign of another type of sleep disorder.
Talk with your doctor if you have questions. It’s important to talk to your doctor if you start talking more in your sleep or if you start to feel more tired during the day.
When you sleep eat, you eat while you’re asleep and don’t remember doing it when you wake up. You may eat very quickly or eat odd combinations of food, foods you don’t normally eat or are allergic to, or eat things that aren’t food. This is why sleep eating can be dangerous.
Sleep eating can cause you to gain a lot of weight. You can even injure yourself from trying to prepare food while you’re asleep.
Some medicines, like those that help you sleep, can cause sleep eating. Sleep eating is more common if you also sleepwalk.
As with sleepwalking, it’s important to make your home safe. This includes putting locks on drawers that have sharp utensils (like knives) or locks on cabinets that have items or foods that aren’t safe for you to eat.
Nightmare disorder is when you have scary dreams often. With this disorder, your heart beats fast, you breathe faster, sweat, and then wake up. You may also have strong feelings about what happened in your dream and remember clear details of the dream when you wake up.
Sleep terror disorder
Sleep terrors happen during NREM sleep. They cause you to become very scared while you sleep. They’re more likely to happen if you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
When you have sleep terror disorder, you may:
REM sleep behaviour disorder
With REM sleep behaviour disorder, you may get violent or act out in a physical way during REM sleep. For example, you may dream about attacking a monster then attack your partner.
Normally, your muscles are blocked from moving during REM sleep (except your eye and breathing muscles). But when you have REM sleep behaviour disorder, you’re able to move your muscles during this stage of sleep. So if you’re dreaming about your body moving, you move. And if you’re running in your dream, you may get out of bed quickly to run and hurt yourself.
We don't know what causes parasomnias.
A parasomnia is diagnosed based on your history. You'll need to see your healthcare provider and talk about your sleep and what’s happening while you sleep.
They may refer you to a sleep specialist. A sleep specialist will talk to you about your symptoms and let you know which sleep test is right for you.
You may have a test that gathers information about your sleep during each stage of sleep. This is called a level 1 sleep study or polysomnography. It can help find other health problems (like seizures) that may be the cause of what’s happening during your sleep.
Parasomnias are more likely to be worse if you:
Most people don’t need treatment for parasomnias. You may need treatment if:
The treatment depends on the type of parasomnia. The most important thing for you to do is get good quality sleep. This means getting enough sleep and sleeping well when you do sleep.
Treatment may include:
Your healthcare provider will work with you to help you decide which treatment is best for you.
Current as of: May 26, 2021
Author: Respiratory Health Section, Medicine SCN (Strategic Clinical Network, Alberta Health Services)
This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.