Parasomnias & Disruptive Sleep Disorders

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night feeling disoriented or confused? You may have even found yourself sleepwalking or sleep eating. If so, you may have experienced parasomnia, a sleep disorder characterized by abnormal behaviors during sleep. Parasomnias can be disruptive and sometimes dangerous, but fortunately, treatments are available. In this blog post, we’ll explore some common parasomnias and what can be done to treat them. Thanks for reading!


All the Types of Parasomnia

NREM-Related Parasomnias

NREM-Related Parasomnias are sleep disorders characterized by abnormal behaviors during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. These behaviors range from simple twitches or gentle movements to complex, potentially dangerous activities such as sleepwalking or even violent episodes. The most common NREM-related parasomnias are night terrors, sleepwalking, confusional arousal, and REM behavior disorder.


Sleepwalking is another common parasomnia associated with NREM sleep. It is characterized by walking around during the night while still asleep and unaware of one’s surroundings. Sleepwalkers will often engage in seemingly purposeful activities such as cooking or cleaning but will have no memory of them once they wake up in the morning. Sleepwalking episodes can last anywhere from a few seconds to over an hour. They can be potentially dangerous if left unchecked. 

Sleep-Related Eating Disorder

Sleep-Related Eating Disorder (SRED) is a type of parasomnia that involves eating during sleep. It is sometimes referred to as a Nocturnal Sleep-Related Eating Disorder since it typically occurs at night during sleep. People with SRED will consume large amounts of food without being aware of it, often in unusual combinations and amounts, and without recollection of the event once they wake up. SRED can occur independently or concurrently with other parasomnias, such as sleepwalking or night terrors.

The causes of SRED are not fully understood. Still, research suggests that anxiety, depression, and stress can increase the likelihood of their occurrence. More specifically, people with higher stress hormones such as cortisol may be more prone to developing SRED. Certain medications, such as antidepressants and antipsychotics, may also contribute to SRED.

SRED can have severe consequences if left untreated. In addition to weight gain due to excessive calorie consumption, SRED can lead to other health problems, such as diabetes and nutrient deficiencies due to poor dietary habits during the night. Furthermore, eating behavior during sleep can lead to physical injury due to choking or burns from hot foods or beverages.

Sleep bruxism

Sleep bruxism is a common parasomnia characterized by grinding or clenching of the teeth while sleeping. It can occur in children and adults and is often associated with anxiety, stress, and sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The consequences of sleep bruxism can be serious if left untreated. People who grind their teeth during the night may experience tooth sensitivity, jaw pain, facial muscle soreness, headaches, earaches, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.

The exact cause of sleep bruxism is still unknown. Still, experts believe it may be related to psychological factors such as stress or anxiety. Studies have also found a genetic component to this condition since some families have a higher prevalence of bruxism than others. Additionally, research suggests that people who suffer from OSA may also be more likely to experience nocturnal tooth grinding due to the frequent pauses in breathing associated with this condition.

Confusional Arousal

Confusional arousals are similar to night terrors in that they involve a sudden awakening accompanied by confusion and disorientation; however, unlike night terror sufferers who usually remain asleep during their episodes, confusional arousal sufferers may become semi-conscious for several minutes before returning to sleep again. 

Sleep terrors

Sleep terrors typically begin with a sudden awakening accompanied by fear and confusion. During this episode, the person may scream, thrash around, or make other outbursts that can be startling to anyone nearby. It is essential to note that those night terrors are not nightmares; they occur during NREM sleep rather than REM sleep, when most dreams occur. 

REM-Related Parasomnias

REM-Related Parasomnias are a type of sleep disorder characterized by abnormal behaviors that occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. These can range from mild disturbances ranging to more severe episodes, such as nightmares and sleep paralysis.

Exploding Head Syndrome (EHS)

In addition to these common forms of REM-related parasomnias, there are also rarer conditions, such as Exploding Head Syndrome (EHS), which involves loud auditory hallucinations that can be startlingly loud yet painless.

Sleep Talking

Sleep Talking (Somniloquy), which consists of talking during sleep that may make sense but usually lacks coherence

Sleep Sex

Sleep Sex (Sexomnia), where individuals engage in sexual activities while sleeping without any awareness that this behavior is taking place.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) is a rare condition in which people act out their dreams while still asleep. This may involve speaking loudly, thrashing around violently, or even getting out of bed and walking around—all without being conscious or aware of what is happening. RBD is more common in men than women, although it can affect both genders equally; it typically begins in middle age and increases with age in both sexes if left untreated. 


Nightmares are the most common form of REM-related parasomnia involving vivid and often terrifying dreams. They can be accompanied by fear and anxiety or physical sensations such as heart palpitations or sweating. Nightmares usually occur during the last stages of REM sleep, when dream activity is at its highest level. Although they’re often frightening to experience, nightmares typically don’t have any long-term effects on an individual’s health or well-being. 

Sleep Paralysis

Sleep Paralysis is another common type of REM-related parasomnia that involves temporary paralysis of the body while still awake. It is usually characterized by intense feelings of fear and terror combined with an inability to move or speak. Sleep paralysis is thought to be caused by a disconnect between the brain’s wakefulness system and the body’s motor output system, which results in muscles being unable to move during this period. 

Sleep-Related Hallucinations

Sleep-Related Hallucinations are a type of parasomnia where individual experiences vivid and often strange or frightening hallucinations while they are asleep. These hallucinations can range from visual, auditory, sensory, olfactory (smell), or even tactile (touch) in nature and can be highly realistic and detailed.


Treating Parasomnias & Disruptive Sleep Disorders

For individuals suffering from parasomnias and disruptive sleep disorders, there are a variety of treatments available. The first step in treating these conditions is to identify the underlying cause of the problem, as this may suggest different treatments that may be appropriate for a particular individual.

lifestyle modifications

In some cases, lifestyle modifications can help to reduce or eliminate symptoms of parasomnias and other sleep disorders. For example, avoiding caffeine late in the day, going to bed and waking up at consistent times each day, maintaining a comfortable temperature in the bedroom, avoiding alcohol and drugs before sleeping, and engaging in relaxing activities before bed can all help improve nighttime rest. In addition, regular exercise during the day has been shown to improve the overall quality of sleep.


Medications are also used to treat parasomnias and other sleep disruptions. These medications work by altering brain chemistry so that individuals can fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer throughout the night. Commonly prescribed medications include benzodiazepines such as lorazepam (Ativan) or clonazepam (Klonopin), tricyclic antidepressants such as trazodone (Desyrel), or serotonin-reuptake inhibitors such as fluoxetine (Prozac).

In cases where a person’s parasomnia is caused by an underlying medical condition such as narcolepsy or restless leg syndrome (RLS), treating these conditions with medications can often reduce or eliminate any associated sleeping difficulties.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is another treatment option for individuals with parasomnias and other sleep disruptions. This type of therapy involves gradually changing how an individual thinks about sleep and their environment so that they can establish healthier patterns of behavior when it comes to getting enough restful sleep each night. CBT also teaches patients relaxation techniques that can be utilized prior to bedtime to reduce anxiety levels and facilitate falling asleep more quickly.


Other approaches for treating parasomnias include hypnosis, meditation, biofeedback training, acupuncture, yoga/tai chi exercises, and herbal remedies such as valerian root extract or melatonin supplements. While research into the effectiveness of these complementary treatments is still ongoing, many people have found them helpful in reducing symptoms associated with disruptive sleep behaviors such as nightmares or night terrors.

Finale Words

No matter which approach is taken to treat parasitesomnia or other disruptive sleep disorders, it is important that individuals seek professional advice from their doctor if symptoms persist or worsen over time; this will ensure proper diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, family members should be included in any treatment plan since their support can be invaluable when it comes to helping an individual make lifestyle changes necessary for better quality, restful nights of sleep.

Rebecca Foley
Rebecca Foley

Rebecca is not only a certified sleep science coach, but she also has first-hand experience with insomnia and knows how frustrating it can be to get a good night’s rest. She spends her time researching and testing out different products – like mattresses, natural sleep aids, and bedding – to see what works best. Her goal is to help as many people as possible get the quality of sleep they deserve by sharing everything she learns through her informative health content.