Though you may never have heard of parasomnias, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced one. Simply put, parasomnias are undesirable events that occur in different levels of sleep. They include everything from the sleepwalking that can disturb deep sleep, to a behavior disorder that can strike during dream sleep. Even bedwetting is considered to be a parasomnia. In fact, it’s one that can occur across various sleep stages.
Regardless of the type, all parasomnias share the ability to become troublesome and destructive forces to the quality of our lives. And the first step toward solving any problem is identifying exactly what it is and whether it is plaguing your life.
The brief descriptions below should help you determine whether you – or someone you love – is suffering from a parasomnia. If you find that is the case and you feel your particular sleep problem is growing into an unmanageable life problem, please don’t hesitate to call St. Elizabeth Sleep Centers. The sleep experts there can help you attain a more restful life, just like they’ve helped thousands of others for the past 20 years.
These sudden episodes of terror during sleep begin with cries or screams. The body shows signs of intense fear, like increased heart rate and breathing, flushed skin and sweating. Those experiencing sleep terrors often behave as they would in the face of extreme fear, by running in bed or flailing the arms.
Children often experience sleep terrors, since they tend to begin between the ages of 4 and 12. Fortunately, however, they typically resolve themselves spontaneously without further incident.
Parents whose children are experiencing these frightening events might find their youngsters difficult to wake and then confused and inconsolable once they have been roused. Upon awakening, it’s also normal for these children to completely forget the frightful event ever occurred, since sleep terrors occur during deep delta sleep, which usually takes place in the first third of the night.
These equally frightening parasomnias arise out of our dream sleep stage, marked by the rapid movement of our eyes beneath our lids known fittingly as rapid eye movement, or REM sleep. This stage – and the nightmares that can accompany it – typically occurs during the final third of our sleep periods.
Nightmares can be intensely disturbing and, unfortunately, they often reoccur. Likewise, unlike sleep terrors, people usually wake fully alert and completely aware of the horrors they’ve just experienced in their dreams. As a result, it can be particularly difficult to return to sleep after a bad nightmare.
REM Behavior Disorder
Though most of us are essentially paralyzed from the neck down during dream sleep as a protective mechanism, people who experience REM behavior disorder actually act out their dreams. In fact, these individuals can sometimes hurt themselves or those in bed with them as a result of their actions.
REM behavior disorder typically affects men who are 50 or older. The behavior can also be associated with neurodegenerative disorders, like Parkinson’s disease and some medications can precipitate this disorder also. Unlike sleepwalking or talking, those with REM behavior disorder usually act with their eyes closed.
People who sleepwalk are usually in the deep delta non-REM stage of sleep during the first third of the night. And, like those with sleep terrors, sleepwalkers can be tough to awaken. Once they are roused, they can be confused, with no memory of the sleepwalking event.
Sleepwalkers may behave inappropriately or dangerously, and they typically have their eyes wide open with a confused, glossy stare. As unusual as sleepwalking behavior can be, it’s not at all uncommon. In fact, studies show it affects about 17 percent of youngsters, typically peaking between the ages of 8 and 12. In adults, the rate of sleepwalking drops to about 4 percent of the population.
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