Les autres parasomnies

Parasomnia: definition and types of parasomnia

Read also: "Sleep apnea - Definition, mechanism and treatment"

Parasomnias: definition

Parasomnias, in the plural, bring together the various sleep disorders. They can appear when waking up, when falling asleep or during the different phases of sleep. Parasomnias are numerous and their manifestations, like their intensities, vary from person to person. They each have their own specificities, ranging from the apparently uncomplicated disorder such as a nightmare to dangerous or even violent behavior.

Parasomnia and deep sleep

Parasomnias are generally differentiated according to the sleep phase during which they occur: deep sleep or REM sleep. There are three major disorders among those that appear during deep sleep:

Parasomnie et sommeil profond

Night terrors

If there is a child parasomnia, it is this one: 40% of children between 18 months and 4 years old are affected. Night terrors, to be differentiated from nightmares, are often more shocking for those around them than for the child. Deeply asleep, the child may start screaming, have his eyes open, talk incoherently, fidget or struggle if you try to touch him. After this episode, which can last 5 minutes, the child goes back to bed peacefully; when he wakes up, he has no memory of what happened.
This disorder is hereditary. It may be followed by sleepwalking attacks after age 5, which usually disappear in adulthood. It is important not to frighten the child by talking to him and to resolve any anxiety-provoking situation that disturbs him during the day in order to promote peaceful sleep.


Somnambulism is one of the most well-known parasomnias. It affects 3% of adults, and in children it usually disappears around adolescence. Here too, genes are involved: genetic predispositions favor sleepwalking in people who are stressed or have experienced a trauma. There are several types of somnambulism: simple somnambulism and risky somnambulism.
The first is usually not dangerous. The individual performs simple gestures, such as turning on the lights, or more complex, such as descending stairs, eating or driving.
Risk sleepwalking is, as its name suggests, more dangerous: the person can commit misdemeanors or even crimes. With higher frequency seizures, people with risky sleepwalking can injure themselves or someone else, or even throw themselves out of a window.

Confusional awakenings

Confusional arousal has many names: it is also called sleep inertia or sleep drunkenness. This disorder manifests as a state of confusion or inappropriate behavior upon awakening, often after forced awakening from deep sleep. The subject may have incoherent remarks or even be violent. The episodes are usually followed by amnesia.
A majority of people who experience confusional arousals experience other sleep disorders. In other cases, people have a mental disorder or have experienced confusional arousal as a result of taking psychotropic drugs. Often alcohol abuse and lack of sleep are the cause.

Parasomnia and REM sleep

During REM sleep, brain activity is high: this is where the most elaborate dreams occur. REM sleep also has its own parasomnias.


They are to be differentiated from night terrors: the person having a nightmare remembers it when they wake up, and a feeling of fear or sadness can persist after waking up. Falling back to sleep is sometimes difficult. While nightmares are generally mild, they can be a sign of deep distress.
Nightmares are common in children and then gradually disappear in adulthood. They can occur during periods of stress, in case of fever, great fatigue, or after alcohol consumption. If nightmares multiply and persist, especially after childhood, it is necessary to turn to a doctor. Nightmares impair sleep, which can ultimately lead to serious consequences.

Parasomnie et sommeil profond

REM sleep behavior disorders

During REM sleep, the body is atonic: the resting muscles do not react. Someone with REM sleep behavior disorder will exhibit abnormal physical activity. On the program, violent behavior such as shouting, attempted attacks or sudden gestures, parallel to the dream that is taking place in the person. Here, it is rather an adult parasomnia which particularly affects men over 50 years of age. The person reacts in real life as in his dream, being able to offend those around him or himself, often trying to defend himself against a dreamlike enemy.
This disorder can have several causes, such as withdrawal or a side effect of a drug. However, if the disorder appears chronically, it may be a warning sign of a neurological disorder. In some men, this disorder appeared ten years before the onset of a degenerative disease like Parkinson's.

Sleep paralysis

When waking up or falling asleep, the conscious person finds himself paralyzed, unable to move or speak. This paralysis is often accompanied by hypnagogic hallucinations that put the person in a state of anxiety or great fear. This experience can last a few seconds or a few minutes.
While sleep paralysis is a symptom of narcolepsy, it can also appear in healthy people during times of great stress or with poor sleep habits.
Explaining the mechanism of paralysis is generally enough to calm the frequency of seizures. They do not present a physical danger, but can affect the lives of the people concerned, because of the anxiety that the hallucinations generate.

Other parasomnias

Rhythms of falling asleep

We could talk about baby parasomnia, because it is infants who are affected. This disorder is easy to recognize: during the night or when falling asleep, the child rocks repeatedly from front to back or from right to left. The most important risk is that he hurts himself by hitting his head: protections are necessary. To solve the problem, it is often enough to put the mattress directly on the ground to prevent rocking.

Hypnagogic hallucinations

These hallucinations are those that appear during sleep paralysis. They can be auditory or visual - some people may even feel gripped. Living in a waking nightmare, the person sees or senses the presence of an evil entity. To avoid these hallucinations, overwork is to be avoided; it is also best not to sleep on your back, a position conducive to dreams and nightmares.

Les autres parasomnies


It is simply the act of wetting the bed in children, involuntarily. Considered a normal development of the bladder, other factors can trigger this problem, such as a psychological or physiological disorder. If it persists after 8 years, a consultation should be required.


A form of vocal somnambulism, sleepwalkers talk while sleeping. They may exclaim, ask a question, or argue, often in response to a dream. This disorder is generally harmless, although it can lead to misunderstandings.


Grinding your teeth at night has a name: bruxism. These repeated contractions of the jaws cause an unpleasant noise for those around them, but do not present any particular danger. To prevent tooth wear, dental devices exist.

Sleep apnea

As the name suggests, sleep apnea is when you stop breathing during the night. The causes can be varied: for example, a lack of muscle tone or obesity. The frequency of sleep apnea in sufferers is very high and can lead to serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease. If you suffer from drowsiness during the day or your partner notices loud snoring or shortness of breath at night, make an appointment with your doctor.

Read also: "Sleep apnea - Definition, mechanism and treatment"

Nocturnal eating disorders

Still little known, nocturnal eating disorders generally lead to overeating in the evening or at night. They show up in people with eating disorders, such as bulimia, or those trying to lose weight. Consult a specialist.

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