What is parasomnia

Parasomnia refers to all the abnormal things or unusual behaviors that can happen to people while they sleep, apart from sleep apnea 1). Parasomnias encompass a broad spectrum of events including abnormal motor, behavioral, and sensory experiences. Excessive motor activity and abnormal motor behaviors, when present, adversely affect the patient or the bed partner resulting in sleep fragmentation, psychosocial effects, and even injuries. Parasomnia examples are sleep-related eating disorder, sleepwalking, sleeptalking nightmares, sleep terrors, sleep paralysis, REM sleep behavior disorder, and sleep aggression 2). Sexsomnia, sometimes called “sleepsex,” is also a parasomnia. It refers to sexual acts that are carried out by a person who is sleeping. Parasomnias can have negative effects on people during the daytime, including sleepiness.

In general, most parasomnias are more common in children and become less prevalent as they get older. Approximately 4% of adult population have been reported to have parasomnias 3). Parasomnias are also more frequent in psychiatric disorders 4). Other risk factors include sleep disorders, medical comorbidities and substance abuse.

Parasomnias can occur as a person is falling asleep or at any point in the sleep cycle. If they occur while falling asleep, a person may experience disturbing hallucinations or sleep paralysis, which is when the body is unable to move for seconds or minutes. Sleep paralysis can be quite frightening, especially when it occurs with hallucinations.

Parasomnias that occur during sleep, such as REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD), often involve vigorous and harmful dream-enacting behaviors. REM sleep behavior disorder is a brain disorder that usually occurs in men over 50 years of age, but can affect people of any age who are taking certain medications, such as antidepressants, and people with neurologic disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, narcolepsy or stroke. Other parasomnias that occur during sleep include nightmares and sleep-related groaning, which can be loud and prevent a person’s bed partner or roommate from sleeping.

In addition, there are parasomnias that occur when a person has abrupt, partial awakenings, such as confusional arousals, sleepwalking, sleep terrors, and sleep-related eating disorder.

Sleep-related hallucinations may also occur as a person is waking up.

Trying to awaken a “parasomniac in action” – especially by shaking or shouting – can sometimes trigger an irritable, aggressive or violent response. Therefore, gently redirect the person back to bed by guiding him or her by the elbow and speaking softly.

Parasomnias affect approximately 10% of Americans. They occur in people of all ages, but are more common in children. Children are particularly vulnerable because of brain immaturity. The good news is that parasomnias are usually not associated with negative health consequences and disappear as a child matures.

Many people who suffer with parasomnias see an improvement in their symptoms simply by improving their sleep habits. Good sleep habits include keeping a regular sleep schedule, managing stress, having a relaxing bedtime routine, and getting enough sleep. There are also drug therapies that are used to control symptoms.

A person should seek treatment whenever there is risk for injury to oneself or another person from the parasomnia. It is also important to seek treatment if the parasomnia disrupts a person’s own sleep or the sleep of the bed partner or roommate, of if there is distress about the symptoms (e.g., nightmares), or if the frequency is quite high or escalating. An overnight sleep lab study may be needed.

It is important to keep in mind that no matter how weird, bizarre, or violent the behavior, a parasomnia is rarely linked with a psychiatric disorder. However, people who suffer from parasomnias may endure ridicule, confusion, and/or shame about their symptoms. In addition, bed partners, family members, and roommates may suffer sleep loss as a result of the parasomnia. In many cases, seeking help from a therapist or support group can help people with parasomnias and the people close to them cope with these issues.

Parasomnias can be successfully managed by appropriate investigation, education and the strategic use of psychologic and pharmacologic therapies.

Despite the variety of pharmacological and non-pharmacological strategies, there are still no standard of practice guidelines.

How can a parasomnia sufferer be protected?

Door alarms can help by awakening a person during an episode. Also, a person who suffers from parasomnias should not sleep on a top bunk, or next to a window. It is important to remove sharp objects from the bedside area and to be sure roommates and household members are aware of the problem and what to do about it.

Parasomnia types

Parasomnias are typically classified by the sleep state from which they arise: non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM) 5).

Non-REM Parasomnias

The common feature of these parasomnias is recurrent episodes of incomplete awakening from non-REM sleep along with amnesia for the event. Clinical phenotypes of this incomplete arousal from non-REM sleep include sleepwalking, sleep terrors, confusional arousals, and sleep-related eating disorder. They usually arise out of slow wave sleep but can also arise from N2 sleep and are more frequent in the first half of the night. These parasomnias are more frequently seen in children. Factors that impair sleep consolidation and increase sleep fragmentation (e.g, pain, restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea) can result in these parasomnias. Similarly, sleep deprivation and sedating medications can also increase the emergence of these abnormal behaviors by enhancing sleep inertia and by hindering normal sleep-wake transition. Consequently, these disorders manifest as arousals associated with disorientation, amnesia, and confusion.

Immaturity of sleep-wake boundary regulation may be the reason why these occur more commonly in pediatric population. Studies have shown a higher prevalence of HLA DQB1*05:01 and HLA DQB1*04 alleles in various non-REM parasomnias6. Sleepwalking also shows an autosomal dominant trait involving chromosome 20 6).


Ambulatory behavior is the primary manifestation of this disorder of arousal. In a systematic review analyzing 51 different studies, Stallman et al. 7) reported a lifetime prevalence of sleepwalking of 6.9% which did not change significantly between childhood and adulthood. This number increased to 47.4% for children with one parent with history of sleepwalking and up to 61.5% for children with both parents with history of sleepwalking 8).

The behaviors can range from aimless wandering to complex, prolonged, and inappropriate episodes that involve driving an automobile, urinating, walking naked, etc. Sleepwalkers typically do not respond to redirection during the episode. In adults, sleepwalking is frequently associated with other disorders like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and usage of hypnotic medications. Multiple different medications like benzodiazepine receptor agonists, antidepressants (amitriptyline, paroxetine, mirtazapine, bupropion), antipsychotics (Olanzapine, quetiapine), antihypertensives (Propranolol, metoprolol), fluoroquinolones, montelukast, topiramate have been implicated as triggers for sleepwalking 9).

Sleep Terrors

Sleep terrors consist of episodes of intense fear accompanied by very loud ‘piercing’ screams and loud crying during which the patient appears terrified. The associated autonomic activation results in increase in heartrate, breathing, pupillary dilatation, and sweating. The typical duration of sleep terrors is 3–5 minutes. The prevalence of sleep terrors varies widely in children from 14.7% to 56% 10) and they almost always resolve by late childhood. Sleep terrors in adults are rare, and are more likely to be associated with medications or psychopathology.

Confusional Arousals

These are partial arousals from non-REM sleep that results in a state of disorientation and occasionally, automatic behavior like vocalizations and motor activity. Ambulation and significant sympathetic over-activity is typically absent. Confusional arousals are more common in pediatric population with a prevalence of up to 17% 11). They are brief, lasting for a few minutes, but may sometimes be prolonged, particularly with sedative hypnotic usage. The individuals with confusional arousals show diminished responsiveness to external stimuli during the episode, and have a partial or complete amnesia of the episode afterward.

Sleep-Related Eating Disorder

This parasomnia is more common in women and is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating after a partial arousal from non-REM sleep 12). During these episodes patients show a predilection for high carbohydrate food and other peculiar inedible items including raw meat, pet foods etc. This parasomnia is closely related to and is thought to be a variant of sleepwalking. Patients are completely amnestic of their eating behavior, and can have adverse consequences due to their nocturnal eating including weight gain, worsening of diabetes, etc. This parasomnia is different from nocturnal eating disorder/night eating syndrome where patients are aware of their eating behavior, and is associated with anxiety in most cases. Ambien is the most common medication that induces sleep-related eating disorder though several other psychotropic medications are known to precipitate it. Certain other factors like smoking cessation, alcohol consumption, and acute stress are also associated with sleep-related eating disorder. Treatment should begin with elimination of precipitating factors like hypnotic medications and treating the comorbid sleep disorders. Medications that can be used to treat sleep-related eating disorder include dopamine agonists and topiramate.


Sexsomnia refers to sleep-related abnormal sexual behaviors. It is classified as a subtype of non-REM parasomnia disorders of arousal in ICSD-3 with abnormal sexual behaviors emerging from partial arousals during slow-wave sleep. It is more common in young males. A wide range of behaviors have been reported including sexual intercourse, attempted intercourse, masturbation, assaultive sexual behavior, sexual vocalizations, etc. Like other parasomnias, other causes of sleep fragmentation should be investigated before initiating pharmacotherapy. Nocturnal seizures, medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and pramipexole have been reported to be some of the other causes for sexsomnia. Treatment data is limited but Clonazepam might be helpful in bothersome cases 13).

REM Parasomnias

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

REM sleep is characterized by rapid eye movements and skeletal muscle atonia. Respiration is diaphragm–based during REM sleep. Dreaming during REM sleep tends to be vivid and detailed, compared to the vague dream content of non-REM sleep. Muscle atonia mediated by brainstem centers, pedunculopontine nucleus and locus coeruleus, serves as a protective mechanism preventing dream enactment during REM sleep. (Figure 2) However, conditions resulting in disruption of this protective mechanism can lead to physical enactment of dream content during REM sleep. This phenomenon is called REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) 14).

Parkinson disease is strongly associated with REM sleep behavior disorder 15). In fact, REM sleep behavior disorder can predate the initial motor symptoms by years, and is one of the best-known biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease 16). REM sleep behavior disorder is present in 25–50% of Parkinson’s disease patients and is even more frequent in other neurodegenerative disorders such as Multiple System Atrophy and Lewy body dementia. Forty percent of the patients with idiopathic REM sleep behavior disorder develop parkinsonian syndrome within a decade and two-thirds within two decades.

Secondary REM sleep behavior disorder can also be seen in the setting of pontine tegmental lesions, withdrawal from alcohol, medication usage (SSRIs, SNRIs, TCAs, MAO inhibitors), Type 1 narcolepsy, and other neurodegenerative disorders like fronto-temporal dementia, Alzheimer’s dementia. Patients experiencing REM sleep behavior disorder may have mild, low amplitude limb movements that are often overlooked. Some patients have vocalizations. These movements can be significant and violent with apparent goal directed behaviors that can cause injury with lacerations. Curiously, the motor activity in REM sleep behavior disorder in patients with Parkinson’s disease appears smoother, faster, and stronger than the patient’s daytime motor performance. Patients experiencing REM sleep behavior disorder may report falling from their beds during the night. Their bed partners may sometimes be able to understand the dream content based on the patient’s behavior. Some episodes result in arousal from sleep. Usually, REM sleep behavior disorder episodes do not cause significant sleep disruption. Nocturnal REM sleep without atonia is found to be strongly associated with pediatric narcolepsy 17).

Nightmare Disorder

Nightmare disorder is characterized by recurrent dysphoric dreams of disturbing mental experiences. These nightmares mostly occur during REM sleep and result in awakening. The theme of the nightmare is usually distressing to the individual and result in a variety of emotions including anxiety, fear, rage, embarrassment, and disgust. Nightmares are very common in children and the child that wakes up from a nightmare usually can give a good description of the dream. They are also common in patients with increased anxiety levels and in those with posttraumatic stress. Childhood nightmares usually resolve spontaneously. Diagnosis of nightmare disorder should only be given in patients that are experiencing persistent distress and impairments 18).

Recurrent Isolated Sleep Paralysis

The core feature of sleep paralysis is complete inability to move during wakefulness. Unlike REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) where muscle tone persists during REM sleep, sleep paralysis is characterized by the extension of REM sleep-related muscle atonia into wakefulness. Most cases of sleep paralysis are isolated and sporadic with about 7% of the general population reporting at least one episode of sleep paralysis 19). Sometimes, sleep paralysis can be associated with a sensation of difficult breathing and hallucinatory experiences. Isolated sleep paralysis is a benign condition but can contribute to significant distress when experienced for the first time. Sleep paralysis can happen either during falling asleep (hypnogogic sleep paralysis) or while when waking up (hypnopompic sleep paralysis). In some cases, triggers for sleep paralysis include sleep deprivation and comorbid sleep apnea. Though sleep paralysis is a benign problem, it can happen frequently causing a significant fear of initiating sleep at which time the more appropriate term for it would be recurrent isolated sleep paralysis.

Other Parasomnias

Sleep Enuresis

Sleep enuresis is characterized by recurrent, involuntary voiding during sleep for at least three months. sleep enuresis occurs in 15 to 20% of five-year olds, and is three times more common in boys. In primary sleep enuresis, recurrent episodes of involuntary voiding happen at least twice a week during sleep after five years of age in a patient who was never consistently dry during sleep for six consecutive months. It is considered secondary sleep enuresis if the patient was consistently dry for at least six months before and began wetting later. This condition is associated with difficulty waking up from sleep in response to an urge to urinate in the setting of a full urinary bladder. Though psychological problems are a rare cause of primary sleep enuresis, secondary sleep enuresis is more commonly seen in children who have recently experienced a significant psychosocial stress. Secondary sleep enuresis is also commonly associated with chronic constipation and fecal soiling. There is often a high prevalence of enuresis among the parents, siblings and other relatives of children with primary enuresis.

Three important factors contribute to the risk of developing sleep enuresis: large nocturnal urine volume production, nocturnal bladder over-activity and difficulty arousing from sleep. Multiple studies suggest that difficulty arousing from sleep is more important in primary enuresis while bladder overactivity is more important in secondary enuresis. Sleep fragmentation by disorders like sleep apnea is also highly correlated with sleep enuresis and successful treatment of sleep apnea results in reduction or elimination of sleep enuresis. Typically, the spontaneous cure rate of primary sleep enuresis is about 15% per year.

Sleep-Related Hallucinations

Sleep-related hallucinations are unreal experiences that occur at the onset of sleep or upon awakening from sleep. They are predominantly visual hallucinations but can also be auditory or even tactile in nature. Hallucinations occurring at sleep onset are called ‘Hypnogogic hallucinations’ while those occurring on awakening are called ‘Hypnopompic hallucinations.’ Sometimes, they can be very complex and can follow a sudden awakening without recall of a preceding dream. These ‘complex nocturnal hallucinations’ can result in injuries when patients jump out of bed in terror. Sleep-related hallucinations can be associated with other parasomnias including sleep talking or sleepwalking. They are also very common in narcolepsy but can also be seen in a high proportion of general population. They are more common in younger persons, and occur slightly more frequently in women. Large populations studies suggest that alcohol use, mood disorders, insomnia, and drug use increase the likelihood of sleep-related hallucinations. Complex nocturnal visual hallucinations, on the other hand, are very rare and may be seen in patients with narcolepsy, Parkinson disease, Lewy body dementia, midbrain and diencephalic pathology, and in the setting of beta-blocker medication usage.

Exploding Head Syndrome

Exploding Head Syndrome is a condition where the affected individuals experience a sudden noise or a sense of explosion that results in abrupt arousal with a sense of fright and happens in the setting of either falling asleep or while waking up. This whole experience is not associated with significant complaints of pain. The term exploding head syndrome was first coined by J.M.S Pearce 20) and despite its memorable name, relatively little is known about this condition. It is not uncommon for patients suffering from exploding head syndrome to interpret their condition to be far more serious and seek medical attention. The sounds reported during exploding head syndrome are varied and include violent explosions, door slamming sounds, buzzing, nearby thunder, whip lash, etc 21). Some patients experience visual symptoms like light flashes, feelings of intense heat, epigastric sensations and an aura of electrical sensation that ascends from lower torso to the head 22). Exploding head syndrome should be differentiated from headache syndromes like cluster headache, thunderclap headaches, hypnic headache and from nocturnal seizures. Patient education and reassurance are the mainstay treatments, though medications like flunarizine, nifedipine, clomipramine, topiramate and carbamazepine have been tried with limited benefit. Stress and anxiety reduction has been found to be helpful.

Parasomnias Due to Medical Disorder

The primary feature of this diagnosis is the presence of a parasomnia that can be explained by an underlying medical or neurological disorder. Charles Bonnet syndrome is characterized by vivid visual imagery in the setting of partial or complete visual loss. Peduncular hallucinosis is a syndrome of hallucinations that can happen in the setting of brainstem and diencephalic pathology 23). Sleep-related hallucinations, seen in the setting of Charles Bonnet syndrome and peduncular hallucinosis, are good examples of parasomnias due to medical disorder. Though REM sleep behavior disorder is technically a parasomnia that occurs in the setting of an underlying neurological disorder (α-synucleopathy), it is considered as a separate parasomnia.

Parasomnia Due to Medication or Substance Abuse

The essential feature of this diagnosis is dependent upon the onset or worsening of a parasomnia in the setting of usage of a medication or bioactive substance. Multiple medications including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, venlafaxine, tricyclic antidepressants, monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors have been associated with worsening of REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD). Beta-adrenergic blocking agents can be associated with sleep-related hallucinations. Zolpidem and Zopiclone are associated with a variety of parasomnias including sleep driving and sleep-related eating disorder.

Parasomnia in the Setting of IgLON5 Autoimmunity

Sabater, et al. 24) described a case series of patients showing a unique NREM and REM parasomnia in the setting of autoantibodies against IgLON5, a neuronal cell adhesion protein. This syndrome is characterized by breathing dysfunction, gait instability and brainstem symptoms. Despite being described as a unique parasomnia, this disease has some features of abnormal sleep-related motor activation (agrypnia excitata) and may not be a true parasomnia 25).

Sleep Talking

Sleep talking is highly prevalent with a lifetime prevalence up to 66% 26). Due to its high prevalence and the benign nature of this parasomnia, it is typically considered a normal variant. It is characterized by varying degrees of comprehensibility, and can happen both, during REM and non-REM sleep. It rarely causes problems but sometimes can be frequent and loud disrupting the sleep of bed partners or roommates.

Catathrenia is another sleep-related phenomenon consisting of loud groaning sounds during episodes of prolonged expiration. It was first reported in 1983 by De Roeck et al. Initially, it was classified among Parasomnias in the International Classification of Sleep Disorders– 2nd edition 27) but was later included among respiratory disorders in the International Classification of Sleep Disorders-3rd edition 28).

Parasomnia causes

Parasomnias often run in families and so there is probably a genetic factor in many cases. Brain disorders may be responsible for some parasomnias, such as many cases of REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD). Parasomnias may also be triggered by other sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, and by various medications.

The three states of human behavior are Wakefulness, Non-REM sleep and REM sleep, and are previously thought to be mutually exclusive. Non-REM sleep in turn is divided into three stages (N1, N2, and N3) Transitions from one behavioral state to another is not a quick switch but involves reorganization and transition of various neural centers before a specific state manifests unequivocally. Recent research has shown that combinations of one or more of these states can result in unstable states, and an arousal out of these unstable states can give rise to abnormal behaviors manifesting as parasomnias 29). It is also suggested that deafferentation of locomotor centers in the spinal and at supraspinal levels, from the generators of different sleep states may result in motor activity in the setting of arousals 30).

Most of the non-REM parasomnias arise out of N3 non-REM sleep. Any condition that promotes non-REM sleep fragmentation (such as pain conditions, restless legs syndrome, periodic limb movements, sleep-related breathing disorders, etc.) increase the risk of parasomnias. Also, conditions of increased sleep drive including sleep deprivation and sedative medications are risk factors for parasomnias. Certain HLA haplotypes like HLA DQ B1*05:01 and HLA DQ B1*04 are considered risk factors for the development of parasomnias. First-degree relatives of patients with parasomnias have a higher prevalence of similar parasomnias.

The major differential diagnoses for both non-REM and REM parasomnia include nocturnal seizures, intoxicated states, medication-induced complex behaviours, nocturnal panic attacks and dissociative disorders 31).

Figure 1. Pathogenesis of parasomnias

Pathogenesis of parasomnias
[Source 32) ]

Parasomnia symptoms

All parasomnias occur from sleep, and non-REM parasomnias usually occur among individuals aged 5–25 years with a family history of similar parasomnias (e.g., sleepwalking or sleep terrors) and involve physical and verbal activity of varying complexity 33). Typically, the sleeper returns to sleep and is amnestic in the morning, with the behaviour being reported by others or discovered because items have been moved or used during the night or the events have resulted in injury 34).

External (e.g., noise, temperature change) or internal (e.g., apnea, periodic limb movement) events may cause an arousal or partial awakening, usually from stage III and IV sleep, which occurs in the first 90 minutes of the sleep period. Arousal or partial awakening can also occur during stage II sleep later in the night 35). Sleep deprivation or disruption from any cause (e.g., restless legs syndrome, obstructive sleep apnea) can precipitate these events in susceptible individuals.

In contrast, REM sleep behaviour disorder is characterized by verbalizations and actions consistent with dream enactment (e.g., fight or flight behaviours) that usually awaken the sleeper who, unlike those with NREM parasomnias, can often recall the event, including the dream and its associated actions 36).

The characteristics of non-REM and REM parasomnias are summarized in Table 1. Distinguishing between non-REM and REM parasomnias is important because the treatment and prognosis are different. Nonrapid eye movement parasomnias are more common in younger people and are usually “outgrown” by young adulthood, whereas REM parasomnias present in late adult life and are associated with degenerative brain diseases 37).

Table 1. Characteristics of parasomnias

Nonrapid eye movement parasomniaRapid eye movement parasomnia

Confusional arousalSleepwalkingSleep terrorsSleep-related eating disorderREM sleep behaviour disorderSleep paralysisNightmare disorder
Emerges fromStages II, III and IV*Stages III and IVStages III and IVStages II, III and IVREM sleepREM sleepREM sleep

Time of nightAnytime during sleepFirst third of sleepFirst third of sleepAnytime during sleepAnytime but most frequently last third of sleepAnytimeAnytime but most frequently last third of sleep

VocalizationsYesYesMarked (screaming or crying)YesMarkedSlight (moaning or groaning)Sometimes

Getting out of bedRareUsualSometimesAlways (food seeking)YesNoNo

Responsiveness on awakeningDecreasedDecreasedDecreasedDecreasedResponsiveResponsiveResponsive

Autonomic activityNormalNormalIncreasedNormalNoNoYes

Post-event confusionYesYesYesYesNoNoNo

Prevalence4.2%1%–4% in adults, 80% of adults have sleep walked as children1%–2% in adultsUnknown; estimated to be 1%–5% in general population but higher among patients with eating disorders; 2–4 times more common among womenUnknown; estimated to be 0.38% in the general population and 0.5% among elderly people;
about 33% of patients with newly diagnosed Parkinson Disease; more common among men
Unknown. 15%–40% has been reported among students under 30 years for at least one episode and 1%–10% of the population for multiple episodes5%–8% of adults; more common among women

Amnesia of eventYesYesYesVariableNoNoNo

Injury riskLow if undisturbedLow if undisturbed; may strike out if disturbed or intoxicatedMore common; may injure self trying to escape; may strike out if disturbed or intoxicatedSelf-injury from food preparation (cuts, burns, poisoning)May injure self or partner as part of dream enactmentNoneNone

Family history of parasomniasYesYesYesYesOccasionallyYesYes; twin studies suggest a genetic predisposition and co-occurrence with other parasomnias

Footnote: *The scoring of sleep has changed recently with Stage II sleep being renamed N2, and stages III and IV being named N3. Because most clinicians are familiar with the old staging nomenclature.

[Source 38) ]

Parasomnia diagnosis

The approach to a patient presenting with abnormal nocturnal behaviors should start with a good history and if possible, an account from a firsthand witness. A comprehensive video polysomnography with expanded electroencephalogram (EEG) and electromyography (EMG) channels should be considered if the parasomnia is presenting with an unusual phenotype or an atypical age and if it is happening frequently. The main purpose of polysomnographic evaluation is to identify triggers of parasomnias like sleep apnea, periodic limb movements and mimics of parasomnias like nocturnal seizures.

It should be noted that not all nocturnal abnormal behaviors are parasomnias. Nocturnal seizures can be sometimes confused with parasomnias. Both temporal lobe and frontal lobe seizures can present during sleep. Similarly, psychogenic/psychiatric conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and nocturnal panic attacks also mimic parasomnias.

Parasomnia treatment

As parasomnias are more common in children, their presence tends to elicit anxiety and panic in the parents. Reassurance and education is very important as most kids grow out of these behaviors without any intervention.

In general, for non-REM parasomnias, the diagnostic evaluation should start with an attempt to find out potential triggers. One of the common risk factors for non-REM parasomnias is sleep disruption, and so the clinician should use a combination of history and diagnostic testing to determine if there are any sleep disorders like sleep-related breathing disorder, periodic limb movements, etc. Similarly, a careful history should be able to identify any environmental stimulants like loud noise that can be contributing to sleep disruption. Patients should be educated about maintaining a good sleep hygiene. Medications (Z drugs [zolpidem, zopiclone and zaleplon], antidepressants, antipsychotics) that are associated with a variety of parasomnias should be evaluated for the possibility of causality.

Patients with REM sleep behavior disorder should be carefully assessed for risk of injury and safety measures should be undertaken. The first step is to make the sleeping environment safe – e.g. putting soft pads around the bed to minimize the impact of falls, using pillows, keeping distance from the bed partner, removing sharp and potentially injurious objects. Bed partner should be aware of these behaviors and try to have an alternative sleeping arrangement rather than sleeping on the same bed as the patient. Similar safety measures should be employed in cases of non-REM parasomnias like sleepwalking. Bed or door alarms can help prevent patient wandering away in their sleep.

Safety precautions for patients with parasomnia

  1. Identify, then reduce or eliminate known precipitating factors
  2. Avoid sleep deprivation: maintain a regular sleep–wake schedule with a constant waking time
  3. Limit, preferably eliminate, the use of alcohol and recreational drugs
  4. Maximize safety of the sleeping environment
    1. Sleep on the lowest floor in the house
    2. Use a mattress on the floor
    3. Sleep solo or use two queen-sized mattresses pushed together for co-sleeping
    4. Minimize or pad bedside furniture
    5. Secure bedside light above bed but out of reach
    6. Use plastic cups or bottles, if bedside water is required
    7. Consider child-proof door knobs, door wedges or alarms
    8. Remove or lock any weapons or dangerous household items

Patients with confusional arousals (as well as those with other parasomnias) should be counselled to not co-sleep with children, because even a single event has the potential for very serious consequences. It is also useful for patients to let others know of the disorder if they are going on a group trip (e.g., business trip, camping) 39).

Pharmacological treatments for REM sleep behavior disorder include Clonazepam and Melatonin. Clonazepam is a benzodiazepine and acts at GABA receptors. Melatonin on the other hand is an over-the-counter dietary supplement in the United States and acts on melatonin receptors. Other medications that showed success in limited case series include pramipexole, levodopa, carbamazepine, and imipramine.

References   [ + ]

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