“Parasomnia” is a catchall term for unusual behaviors that people experience prior to falling asleep, while asleep, or during the arousal period between sleep and wakefulness. These behaviors vary considerably in terms of characteristics, severity, and frequency.

Historically, parasomnias were considered a definitive sign of psychopathology, but some contemporary researchers argue these phenomena occur as the brain transitions in and out of sleep, as well as between rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep cycles. Parasomnias are more common in children than adults, but these behaviors have been recorded across different age groups.

Sources: Sleep Foundation


Also known as somnambulism, sleepwalking occurs when people get out of bed while still asleep but exhibit limited awareness or responsiveness to their surroundings.

They may exhibit other complex behaviors such as sorting clothes. Sleepwalking can also lead to injuries if the individual loses their balance or collides with other objects.

Sources: Sleep Foundation

Sleep Terrors

Sleep terrors, also called night terrors, is a parasomnia. A parasomnia involves undesired events that come along with sleep.

In a typical episode, you will sit up in bed and scream or shout. This scream can include kicking and thrashing. You may say or shout things that others are unable to understand. You will also have a look of intense fear with eyes wide open and heart racing. You may also sweat, breathe heavily, and be very tense. At times, you may even bolt out of bed and run around your home. This response is more common in adults. It may also lead to violent actions. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish these types of events from REM sleep behavior disorder.

During an episode of sleep terrors, you will not respond appropriately to voices and can be hard to wake up. Once you do wake up, you will be very confused. You may not know where you are or what is going on. Most often, you will not have any memory of what took place. At times, you may recall brief bits of a dream. The dream may involve great danger or fright. It can take a long time to feel comforted once the episode is over.

Sources: American Academy of Sleep Medicine

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

This disorder – RSBD for short – is characterized by unusual vocalizations or movements during REM sleep, often as a reaction to a dream. It is usually attributed to dysfunction in the muscles responsible for skeletal muscle atonia, the extremely relaxed state that occurs in the REM stage.

People with RSBD may undergo polysomnography examinations that record brain activity during the REM stage. This condition is most common in people aged 50 or older. Clinical findings of RSBD may be noted in patients taking certain anti-depression medications.

Sources: Sleep Foundation

Nightmare Disorder

Everyone has unpleasant dreams every now and then. Nightmare disorder is limited to those who experience recurrent, vivid dreams defined by threats to survival or security that result in fatigue, distress, reduced cognition, and other daytime impairments. Nightmare disorder is a common component of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Motor activity is often limited during nightmare episodes. For children with nightmare disorder, severe psychosocial stressors are often to blame.

Sources: Sleep Foundation

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