Sleeping Disorders - Parasomnias

FEB 06, 2021

Last week, Autumn Mind discussed a variety of sleeping disorders called Dyssomnias. This week, we bring to you the more common set of sleeping anomalies: Parasomnias.

Here’s a refresher from our previous article about the difference between the two:
Dyssomnia refers to sleeping disorders that manifest as an impairment in the amount, quality or timing of sleep, due to emotional causes. These include insomnia, hypersomnia and disorder of sleep - wake schedule. Parasomnias, on the other hand, refer to irregularities that occur during sleep, such as sleepwalking (somnambulism), sleep terrors and nightmares. Parasomnias are common in children and are a part of the developmental process.
Keep in mind that both of these are discussed within the context of psychological origin.

In order to best understand Parasomnias, it is essential to know the differences between NREM and REM sleep. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement and it refers to what is otherwise known as paradoxical sleep. It is called a paradox because while some parts of the body are extremely relaxed, such as the muscles, other parts are active, such as the eyes (hence the name), heart rate and the like.
NREM sleep on the other hand refers to Non Rapid Eye Movement sleep which progresses through four stages from light to deep, at the end of which REM sleep begins.

Depending on which stage of sleep Parasomnias occur, they share certain qualitative similarities and differences. For example, waking a person up from Parasomnias that occur during Stage 4 of NREM sleep is extremely difficult, compared to those that occur during NREM sleep. Moreover, we tend to remember that events or dreams that occur during REM sleep, but the same cannot be said for those that occur during NREM sleep.

The most common Parasomnia that occurs during REM sleep is a nightmare. These are frightening dreams that usually awaken us and leave behind a very vivid memory of the dream. This stands as a sharp contrast to night terrors, which occurs during stage 4 of NREM sleep. A night terrors is characterised by a loud, fearful scream, as well as an increase in heart rate, breath rate and sweating. Because it is a feature of NREM sleep, it is difficult wake someone up from a night terrors and when they do wake, they have almost no memory of it.
Yet another Stage 4 Parasomnia is somnambulism or sleepwalking. Sleepwalking can sometimes be simple, such as walking around the house, or running (as is usually seen in children). However, sometimes, sleepwalkers can engage in complex activities, and yet, they do not wake up, which may result in accidents.
Somniloquy (sleep talking) and Bruxism (teeth grinding) are other examples of Stage 4 Parasomnias.

Parasomnias tend to cause less impairment and disruption than Dyssomnias, and are also normal to a certain degree, in children. However, they can become a source of distress when they occur too frequently, have distressing content or make one susceptible to accidents. In such situations, exploring underlying stress, improving sleep habits and consulting a mental health professional can be of great help.