Parasomnias are disruptive sleep condition that are the result of heightened brain activity during REM sleep or partial stimulus from Non-REM sleep. Parasomnias include nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking, etc.
Nightmares are vivid nighttime events that can create strong feeling of terror or anxiety. Usually, the person having a nightmare is abruptly awakened from REM sleep and is able to describe detailed dream content, with the person also having difficulty returning to sleep. Nightmares can be caused by many factors including illness, anxiety, the loss of a loved one, or negative reactions to a medication. Call the Sleep Center at Raritan Bay Medical Center if nightmares occur more often than once a week or if nightmares prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep for an extended period of time.
A person experiencing a night terror or sleep terror abruptly awakes from sleep in a terrified state. The person may appear to be awake, but is confused and unable to communicate. They do not respond to voices and are difficult to fully awaken. Night terrors last about 15 minutes, after which time the person usually lies down and appears to fall back asleep. People who have sleep terrors usually don’t remember the events the next morning. Night terrors are similar to nightmares, but night terrors usually occur during deep sleep.
People experiencing sleep terrors may pose dangers to themselves or others because of limb movements. Night terrors are fairly common in children, occurring in approximately 5% of the population, mostly between the ages of three to five. Children with sleep terrors will often also talk in their sleep or sleepwalk. This sleep disorder, which may run in families, can also occur in adults. Strong emotional tension or the use of alcohol can increase the likelihood of night terrors among adults.
Sleepwalking occurs when a person appears to be awake and moving around but is actually asleep. They have no recollection of their actions. Sleepwalking most often occurs during deep non-REM sleep (stages 3 and 4 sleep) early in the night and it can occur during REM sleep in the early morning. This disorder is most commonly seen in children aged eight to twelve; however, sleepwalking can occur among younger children, the elderly and adults.
Sleepwalking appears to run in families. Contrary to what many people believe, it is not dangerous to wake a person who is sleepwalking. The sleepwalker simply may be confused or disoriented for a short time upon awakening. Although waking a sleepwalker is not dangerous, sleepwalking itself can be dangerous because the person is unaware of his or her surroundings and can bump into objects or fall down. In most children, it tends to stop as they enter the teen years.