REM Parasomnias

Last updated: May 31, 2019

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Parasomnia is a term that refers to an abnormal problem that can happen while a person sleeps. This does not include sleep apnea. Some examples of parasomnia include sleep-related sleeping disorders, sleepwalking, and sleep aggression. Nightmares and sleep paralysis are also examples of parasomnias. Parasomnias can affect a person’s sleep patterns and result in a decrease in the quality of sleep. It can also lead to daytime sleepiness.

When do people experience parasomnias?

A person can experience parasomnia while falling asleep. It can also occur at any point in the sleep cycle. When a person experiences parasomnia while falling asleep, it usually results in hallucinations or sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is a condition wherein a person is unable to move his body. It can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. As you can imagine, this condition can be frightening. What makes sleep paralysis more frightening is when it occurs with hallucinations.

Some parasomnias occur while a person is in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is the deepest stage of the sleep cycle. It is the stage of sleep where the body of a person heals itself. REM sleep is when a person recovers from injuries. While in REM sleep, the eyes of a person move rapidly. The body of that person remains still while in this stage.

What are the different types of REM parasomnias?

There are several types of REM parasomnias.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

This is a type of sleep disorder where a person acts out his dreams. That dreams that a person experiences are often violent or filled with action. When a person experiences an episode of REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) that person often kicks, flails or punches as a reaction to a dream. This can result in injuries to the patient’s sleeping partner. It can also be dangerous to the patient. The patient may even sleepwalk during an episode.

Nightmare disorder

Nightmares are frightening dreams. They can occur while a person sleeps and can lead to abrupt arousal. It is normal for a person to experience nightmares once in a while but when a person has a nightmare disorder, he experiences nightmares much more frequently. Frequent nightmares may result in lack of sleep. It can also result in poor quality sleep because of frequent arousals. Nightmare disorder can also cause anxiety and can make it difficult to fall asleep due to the fear of experiencing another nightmare.

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Sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis is a condition wherein a person is unable to move his body while falling asleep. It can also happen while a person is waking up. The patient is usually aware that he is awake and that he is unable to move his limbs.  An episode of sleep paralysis can be as short as a few seconds or as long as a few minutes. Sleep paralysis usually ends on its own. It can also end when another person touches or speaks to the patient. There are also instances when hallucinations accompany sleep paralysis.

What causes parasomnias?

Parasomnias are often genetic in nature, meaning that they run in families. There are also brain disorders that can cause parasomnias. REM sleep behavior disorder is a parasomnia that often results from brain injuries. A parasomnia may also be a result of another sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea. In some instances REM parasomnias are side effects of medications.

How do we treat REM parasomnias?

The most effective way of treating REM parasomnias is by improving sleep habits. Examples of good sleep habits include a regular sleep schedule and getting enough sleep. Managing stress and practicing a relaxing bedtime routine can also help clear the mind. This can decrease the likelihood of an episode.

There are also therapies that might help treat REM parasomnias. These are effective if parasomnia is a result of stress or mood disorders.

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