Abnormal Sleep Behavior
Abnormal behaviors that occur during sleep are called parasomnias. These include abnormal physical or verbal behaviors that may occur at any age, although some are more common in childhood. Parasomnias may prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep and can affect your daily activities.
Abnormal sleep behaviors may be hereditary, or triggered by stress, traumatic episodes, certain medications, alcohol or other sleep disorders. A few abnormal sleep behaviors have been described below.
Sleepwalking: A parasomnia in which one gets out of bed and moves around or performs certain activities in a state of sleep. Sleepwalkers are usually confused and angry when awoken and may respond aggressively if restrained. Sleepwalking can be dangerous as the sleepwalker is unaware of their surroundings and can injure themselves.
Night terrors: The person awakens in a fearful state, confused and unable to communicate as they are not fully awake. They fall asleep again after some time and are unable to remember the event the next day.
Nightmares: Nightmares are unpleasant dreams that one awakens from and experiences feelings of fear and anxiety. The person having a nightmare has difficulty going back to sleep and usually remembers the terrible dream.
Sleep paralysis: Sleep paralysis refers to the temporary inability to move, which happens while going to sleep or upon awakening. During these episodes the person will be unable to move or speak, and may experience hallucinations. Sleep paralysis may last a few seconds or minutes, or may end when someone touches or speaks to the person.
REM sleep behavior disorder: People with REM sleep behavior disorder act-out certain actions and sometimes violent dreams, sometimes hurting themselves or others.
Potentially dangerous parasomnias, or those affecting your health and daily activities require medical attention. A sleep specialist will recommend the maintenance of a diary of the sleep habits and will review symptoms, medical and social history to identify the type of parasomnia and the associated cause. A sleep study such as a polysomnogram is conducted which measures breathing patterns, air flow, blood oxygen levels, electrical activity of the brain, heart rate, muscle activity and eye movements during sleep.
To treat abnormal sleep behavior, the specialist may prescribe medication, or recommend lifestyle changes or behavioral therapy. It is important to maintain certain safety measures to reduce the risk of injury associated with some parasomnias. Treating the underlying sleep disorder may help improve the symptoms of parasomnias.