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Disruptive Behaviors that Occur During Sleep

Sleep should be a time to refresh one’s mind and body, yet hitting the hay when you have parasomnia can mean that bedtime is full of unwelcome surprises — sleepwalking, night terrors or hallucinations, for example.

Parasomnias are unusual, disruptive behaviors that occur during sleep or while falling asleep. Those experiencing parasomnias are not aware of their actions, and often won’t remember what happened upon waking.

Parasomnias can have several causes:

  • Genetics — it can run in families
  • Sleep deprivation
  • An underlying brain disorder, such as Parkinson’s disease
  • Other sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea
  • Medications

Types of Parasomnia

Anyone can experience parasomnias, although they are particularly common in children because their brains are not fully developed. With symptoms ranging from mild to severe, there are several kinds of parasomnias, such as: 

Sleepwalking: Occurring in the deeper stages of sleep, sleepwalking can include a range of behavior, from sitting up in bed and staring to driving a car.

Confusional Arousals: Lasting between 5 to 15 minutes, these arousals can include slow or slurred speech and disorientation upon waking.

Night Terrors: A person experiencing a night terror may scream or cry and appear to be panicked, yet remain asleep. 

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep Behavior Disorder: This disorder prompts people to physically act out their dreams, which are often violent. They may kick or punch or thrash in an attempt to fight off an attacker.

Hallucinations: Sleep-related hallucinations can occur as a person is falling asleep or waking up. Often, they induce feelings of fear and can involve a variety of sensations: vision, sound, touch or movement.

Treatment Options

If parasomnia episodes are disrupting your sleep (or your bed partner’s), you may need to undergo a sleep study in one of MultiCare’s state-of-the-art sleep centers. Our specialists will review your study results and work with you to diagnose your parasomnia and find the best course of treatment for you. Common treatment options include:

Improving Sleep Hygiene: People who consistently do not get enough sleep are more prone to experiencing parasomnias than those who are well rested. Forming habits that support sleep, such as establishing a relaxing bedtime routine and limiting evening screen time, are an important part of treating these disorders.

Fostering a Safe Sleep Environment: People suffering from parasomnias can be a danger to themselves or their bed partners due to aggressive behavior while sleeping. MultiCare sleep specialists will strategize safety measures with you, such as placing a mattress on the floor or removing dangerous objects from the bedroom, as part of your treatment plan.

Medications: Some medications, such as antidepressants, can be effective for eliminating parasomnia. Your sleep specialist will discuss these options with you. 

Stress Reduction: Stress can make parasomnia worse or in some cases even trigger an episode. Learning techniques for relaxing your mind and body, such as biofeedback or meditation, can improve your ability to sleep and lessen the frequency of parasomnia episodes. 

The specific treatment or treatments recommended for you will depend on the type, cause and severity of your parasomnia, as well as your overall health.

See a Sleep Specialist

If you would like to be evaluated for a sleep concern, call to schedule an appointment with one of our locations. Note that some insurance policies require a doctor referral for our services. Check with your insurance before your appointment to verify your coverage.

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