Parasomnias-What are They?
You may have heard the term parasomnias but are not quite sure what they are. In this article, I’m going to look at what parasomnias are and look at some research into dealing with this
What Are Parasomnias
Parasomnias are a set of disruptive behaviors that occur during sleep or during the transition to or from sleep. Parasomnia behaviors may include sleepwalking, talking in your sleep, sleep-related eating disorder, sleep paralysis, sleep aggression and even abnormal sexual behaviors which have been termed sexsomnia.
Parasomnias seem to be more prevalent in those with psychological disorders. They can also be caused by some medications. Studies seem to suggest that they also may have a genetic component, as they have been seen to run in families. Children of those who experience parasomnias are more likely to also experience the disorder. They can also occur along with other sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy or restless legs syndrom.
Parasomnias can occur in REM sleep or in non-REM sleep. They can also occur during the transition to sleep, or in the transition from sleep to wakefulness. Different parasomnias are more common depending on the stage of sleep that they occur. Let’s look at some of these.
During sleep, you enter different sleep stages. You naturally transition to and from Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep to other stages of sleep known as non-REM (NREM) sleep.
The most common non-REM parasomnias include nightmares, sleepwalking, night terrors, confusional arousal and sleep-related eating disorder.
A review published in December of 2018 looked at the literature on parasomnias. NREM parasomnias are more common in children than in adults. Of the NREM behaviors, confusional arousal was the most common in children under 15 years of age. The second most common was sleepwalking, with night terror as the third most common.
Confusional arousal is when a person appears to be awake but exhibits signs of confusion, have slow speech, be disoriented or even unresponsive.
Although they are less common in adults, there are a few other behaviors that may be exhibited by adults in addition to the above, including sleep-related eating disorders and sexual acts during sleep, termed sexsomnia.
In the review, sexsomnia was found to be 7.1% of all adult parasomnias, with the behavior affecting young males predominantly. The behaviors can include having intercourse while asleep, masturbation, fondling and others.
In one case published in 2017, a 37-year-old male has been experiencing sexsomnia for 13 years. The patient had untreated obstructive sleep apnea as well. He would have sex with his wife typically between midnight and 2 am but had a total lack of memory of the events. He even thought his wife was cheating when he asked for sex and she told him they had sex the night before. Since he had no memory of the event, he accused her of lying. It put a great strain on the relationship. However, once the patient was successfully treated for hos obstructive sleep apnea, the episodes resolved and his relationship was restored.
Another case which was published in 2018 looked at the case of a 57-year old woman who sought help for other neurological issues and expressed that since her 30’s she had been experiencing spontaneous orgasm during sleep which would awaken her.
During REM sleep your body normally experiences what is known as atonia. Atonia is a paralysis of skeletal muscles which keeps you from acting out your dreams. When this atonia fails to happen you may experience symptoms such as flailing, talking, grinding of the teeth, and remembering your dreams or nightmares if awakened during this phase of sleep.
REM sleep behavior disorder is the term the lack of atonia during sleep that results in those symptoms. REM sleep behavior disorder is more common in men over 50 and with some neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease.
Nightmares usually happen during REM sleep. These can awaken an individual who can then have vivid or at least partial, recall of the nightmare. It can also include strong emotional upset due to the nature of the nightmare.
Sleep paralysis can happen either when a person is entering sleep or in the transition from sleep. This can be disconcerting because in many instances the individual may feel like they are choking or can’t move or breath. This experience can be terrifying when it occurs.
This may also be where the legend of the Succubus and the Incubus originated. The Succubus was thought to be a demon who took on the form of a woman and came in the night to have sexual intercourse with men. This Wikipedia entry covers the origins of the term Succubus. The Incubus was thought to be a demon in male form that seduced women in their sleep.
Many researchers believe that sleep paralysis occurs when REM sleep in interrupted but the person is still experiencing the normal atonia of REM sleep. It can also occur when falling a
Since you are in a transition phase it is thought that you can also experience hallucinations and other sensory experiences.
If you feel that you are experiencing parasomnias it is important to have an evaluation done by a sleep physician. They can recommend the proper treatment for your condition and also find out if you have other conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea that should be treated.
The good news is that treatments are available that can help you get a good nights sleep. That can be a lifesaver for you, and your bed partner who also has to contend with your symptoms. They may also be missing out on much needed sleep because of them.