Parasomnias are sleep disorders that cause abnormal movements, behaviors, mistaken perceptions or frightening dreams.

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Parasomnias are more common in children, but they can happen at any age. During a parasomnia, you’re most often asleep and remember little or nothing of the event — though it’s possible to be partially awake during some parasomnias. However, parasomnias affect your sleep and may cause you to feel sleepy the next day.

Some parasomnias can put you or your sleeping partner at risk for injury. Seeking treatment can help you get the sleep you need, while protecting you and your loved ones during sleep

Prevention and Diagnosis

While you may not be able to prevent parasomnias entirely, you can lower your risk of parasomnia by practicing healthy sleep habits — such as getting regular exercise and having a consistent sleep schedule — to promote a good night’s sleep.

Many parasomnias are easily identified by the behaviors they cause, such as sleep walking or being awakened by a nightmare or sleep terror. However, your doctor may recommend a sleep study to determine if there’s an underlying cause. For example, sleep deprivation from insomnia, sleep apnea or another disorder can trigger parasomnias. Parasomnias can also be associated with narcolepsy and restless legs syndrome.

Your doctor may also do a physical exam to uncover any underlying medical conditions — such as Parkinson’s disease, substance abuse or a mental health disorder — that could lead to a parasomnia. You should also tell your doctor about any medications you’re taking, since some can disturb your sleep. Keep a sleep diary for a week or two before seeing your doctor to provide him or her with more information.


In many cases, parasomnias can be resolved or minimized by treating an underlying condition, including another sleep disorder. Treating mental health issues such as anxiety and depression can help resolve some parasomnias. Others, such as REM sleep behavior disorder, may respond to medications.

At El Camino Health, we consider your entire health status to design a treatment plan that works for you.

Types of Parasomnias

El Camino Health’s sleep specialists offer expert care for a variety of parasomnias, using the latest sleep disorders treatments.


Most people have an occasional bad dream. But, if nightmares cause you to lose sleep consistently, you may have a parasomnia called nightmare disorder. It can result from stress, anxiety or depression. Some medications, such as antidepressants, can cause nightmares. And, people with other sleep disorders may be more likely to have nightmare disorder.

If disturbing dreams often cause you to wake up and you have trouble falling back to sleep, talk to your doctor.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

During REM sleep, your body goes into a normal, temporary state of paralysis, called REM atonia, to prevent you from injuring yourself. For people who have REM sleep behavior disorder, this process isn’t working properly, causing them to act out their dreams. This could involve jumping out of bed, kicking and punching, depending on the dream. If you have this condition, it usually gets worse over time and can eventually result in an injury to you or your sleep partner.

REM sleep behavior disorder occurs more often in men, older adults and people with a brain illness such as Parkinson’s disease. It’s also more likely to occur along with sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder and narcolepsy. Since the condition endangers the sleeper and bed partner, it’s important to seek treatment.

Sleep-Related Eating Disorder

People with this parasomnia repeatedly binge eat and drink during the night. You may be partially awake during an episode, but unable to control your actions. With sleep-related eating disorder, you eat rapidly and sloppily, and may eat or drink nonfood items and toxic substances. This disorder can cause you to gain weight, and it can put you at risk for cutting or burning yourself while preparing food. It’s important to see a sleep medicine specialist if you think you have a sleep-related eating disorder.

Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis makes you unable to move when you’re awakened or are in the process of falling asleep, possibly due to an extension of REM atonia (normal, temporary paralysis during REM sleep) or difficulty transitioning between sleep stages. Episodes can last a few seconds or minutes and usually end on their own. You may experience sleep paralysis only once or many times. While it can be frightening, it’s not harmful on its own.

However, sleep paralysis can be related to other conditions such as narcolepsy and bipolar disorder. Talk to your doctor if sleep paralysis makes you anxious or it affects your ability to get a good night’s sleep.

Sleep Terrors

Also called night terrors, this condition shares some symptoms with sleepwalking, along with an overwhelming feeling of fear. People who have sleep terrors typically sit up in bed and scream in terror. They don’t respond to comforting, and may become violent or run out of the house. When they finally wake up, they usually remember little or nothing about what happened.

While sleep terrors in children aren’t considered abnormal, adults with this disorder should see a sleep medicine specialist.


This common parasomnia involves more than simply walking in your sleep. It can include talking, yelling or bolting from the bed and running. In rare cases, a sleepwalker may even get in a car and drive. This disorder may also cause you to become aggressive or violent, putting yourself and others at risk.

Sleepwalking is common among children, who usually outgrow the disorder as teenagers.

This condition is more of a concern in adults, for whom it can affect healthy sleep patterns and prevent restful sleep.