Sleep disorders, or parasomnias, are unusual experiences or behaviors that occur during sleep. They include sleepwalking, nightmares, and terrors, which happen even to those who have high-quality rest during the day, like playing at CasinoChan or reading. We tell you how parasomnias are diagnosed and treated, with or without medication.
How Normal Sleep Works
With sleep, the human body rests and recuperates, but still remains active. Thanks to research, we know that the brain goes through a sleep cycle at night, which consists of two phases – slow and fast.
The sleep cycle begins here. During the slow phase, the brain is awake and the body relaxes little by little into a deep sleep. During this phase, many people experience the phenomenon of hypnotic jerk – a sharp contraction of the muscles, as if the person flinched from fear, surprise. Often this phenomenon is accompanied by a dream where he or she falls, or a visual hallucination in the form of a flash of light. Hypnic jerks are not dangerous – they are provoked by drinking caffeine in large quantities or a stressful situation. But sleep takes its toll, and the body sinks into a deep sleep – the eyeballs stop moving and the muscles relax. The slow phase of sleep is a time of building new body cells, as well as renewing and repairing old ones.
It differs from the slow phase in that the brain is active during it, as during wakefulness, the eye muscles are actively moving, while the body muscles are temporarily paralyzed. This is necessary for a person to watch vivid dreams safely – not waving his hands around while trudging through the woods, or running away from a pursuer. Children dream more often because their fast phase is longer than that of adults. This phase is also shorter in those who sleep in the cold – the brain “likes” to show dreams when the body is warm. It’s believed that the fast phase of sleep is associated with the processes of processing and storing memories.
During the night, a person who sleeps the recommended 7-9 hours goes through 4-6 sleep cycles. This is enough to get enough sleep, restore the body, and support the cognitive functions of the brain.
How Parasomnia Sleep Works
Sleep phases allow the body to recover, and the brain processes and remembers information through them. When sleep disorders occur, these functions suffer. Insomnia is most common in people. We have already written about how to cope with it.
But there are also more rare disorders – parasomnias. They are associated with unusual sleep behavior – talking, walking, aggressive actions and even eating. Among adults, parasomnias occur in 4 to 67 percent of people. The spread is large because of the variety of manifestations. For example, 66 percent of adults have been bothered by nightmares during their lifetime, while only 4 percent have eaten while asleep.
Some parasomnias occur during the slow phase of sleep, others during the fast phase, and others are difficult to assign to any group. There are also separate types of parasomnias that are related to somatic illness or medication intake.
Slow Phase Sleep Parasomnias
More common in children and adolescents, who usually “outgrow” the disorder as they grow older. We have already discussed sleepwalking, sleep terrors, and confusional awakenings in more detail. Separately, somnologists distinguish eating while sleeping syndrome – unusual behavior in which a person gets up to eat or prepare food.
Some people remember what they did during the night; others don’t. Reminders of a night spent with food are scratches on the hands if the person was cutting something, or burns if frying food. The risk of food poisoning is also high. In this type of parasomnia, the person eats a variety of foods, from eatable to chunks of raw meat.
Rapid Phase Sleep parasomnias
Unlike slow-phase sleep disorders, they are more often found in the elderly and are associated with degenerative brain diseases. That is, the brain works worse, such as in Alzheimer’s disease. To a greater extent, this applies to impaired rapid sleep behavior, a state in which a person is actively moving and communicating in accordance with what he is dreaming. But one night he may be laughing, the next he may be aggressive, screaming or fighting, which isn’t safe for the partner lying next to him. Sleep paralysis works in the opposite way.
During it, the person wakes up, but cannot move the body, as if he is still in a phase of rapid sleep. It seems as if it’s difficult to breathe, because some of the muscles are still relaxed, and there is anxiety. Some people feel as if they are being strangled by a creature. Fortunately, after a few minutes this goes away without a trace. Nightmares simply can’t be avoided – they are recurring restless dreams, which cause a person to feel anxious, angry and disgusted, and he remembers them in great detail in the morning.
Isolated Symptoms and Variants of the Norm
This includes daydreaming, the most common type of parasomnia. According to a study, two-thirds of people surveyed spoke at least once in their sleep. This is considered normal if the person is constantly communicating in his or her sleep and it isn’t related to experiencing a severe stress or traumatic event.
This includes those sleep disorders that are difficult to categorize above. Exploding head syndrome – the sensation of a sudden loud noise in the head that the patient experiences when falling asleep or waking up. Hallucinations also occur when falling asleep and waking up – most often they are visual images that aren’t actually there.
Parasomnias also include nocturnal urinary incontinence, which occurs in children under 6 years of age. This is associated with the fact that they have not yet learned to control their bladder. Bedwetting is probably inherited. If a parent was bothered by nocturnal enuresis as a child, the child is likely to have it.
How to Suspect
It can best be told by partners who sleep with the person. But there are some common symptoms:
- Fatigue during the day.
- Finding cuts and bruises on the body, the cause of which is unknown.
- Difficulty falling asleep.
- Waking up with a feeling of disorientation.
You should immediately rule out the effects of alcohol or psychoactive substances on sleep. Some medications can also change sleep behavior.
You should consider whether there are any special conditions that triggered the sleep disorder. Regular lack of sleep can change sleep behavior. Or the work schedule has significantly altered the sleep cycle – this applies to night shift workers or parents who stay up nights caring for a newborn baby.
It’s necessary to pay attention to the timing of the parasomnia. Slow phase sleep disorders occur shortly after falling asleep, and fast phase sleep disorders occur closer to awakening.
How to Cure
Establish all habits related to sleep. In short, a healthy sleep is:
- Regular rising and going to bed at the same time.
- A snack before going to bed in case of hunger.
- Regular physical activity.
- Taking a break from chores and smartphones an hour before bedtime
- A cool, dark, and quiet room in which to sleep.
Patients who sleepwalk should take precautions to avoid getting hurt at night. It’s necessary to:
- Remove all dangerous or sharp objects from the bedroom.
- Secure table lamps.
- Put down flooring to prevent injuries in case of a fall.
- Attach protective corners to bedside furniture.
- Install talking door alarms on windows and sleepwalking doors.
- Sleep in separate beds with a partner if the person with parasomnia exhibits aggressive behavior – such as punching or kicking.
There is no confirmation of the effectiveness of psychological techniques for the treatment of parasomnias. However, in some cases, parasomnias are a consequence of a mental disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychotherapy is necessary to cope with them.
For example, for nightmares, therapy by rehearsal of mental images is used. The point is to write down the scene of the nightmare in all the details, and then rewrite it so that it ends well. It’s then necessary to repeat the new version in one’s head before going to sleep to increase the chances of seeing exactly that version in one’s dreams. Another method is exposure therapy. With its help, the person at the session voices the nightmare in all of the details and then discusses the emotions that arose together with the therapist. The story is recorded and then re-listened to by the patient to reduce the fear of the nightmare over time and bring it down to zero.