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Parasomnia: causes, symptoms and treatment

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IF you want raw, real and unfiltered Olivia, my blog is where you'll find it.

Here, I'll share the highlights of my sleep expert life, as well as the highlights - and lowlights - of my personal life too.

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Parasomnias like nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking…. Are they normal? Is it something to be concerned about? Why do they happen? I have all this and more for you – so you can know, understand and recognise if you have a parasomnia for yourself. Lastly, as with other sleep disorders, a sign of a parasomnia is poor sleep – think insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, sleeping lightly, needing to take sleeping pills.

1. Nightmares

Age: adults

Causes: subconscious stress

Symptoms: you may wake up in a panic, sweating or feeling anxious

Treatment: can be treated with sleep therapy or other forms of therapy – traditional psychotherapy, plant medicine, alternative medicine.

I remember as a little girl my recurring nightmare: I was with my mum walking to the shops, she went inside and a flock of seagulls wouldn’t let me in with her, and she couldn’t hear me. The seagulls started to attack me, and I was left alone, crying for my mum with helplessness. While writing this back now makes me giggle a little (I actually love seagulls now!) I remember as a little girl, this was absolutely terrifying. 

Occurring in REM sleep and therefore the last ⅓ of the night, nightmares are usually triggered by stress – subconscious or conscious. Especially for those who ‘bottle up’ their emotions, during sleep when your conscious defence mechanisms are down, nightmares provide a space for repressed emotions to arise. 

As a consequence, 60% of those suffering monthly nightmares report disturbed sleep, a figure that undoubtedly rises for those who experience them more frequently. 

Parasomnia 2: Night terrors

Age: 4-12 years

Causes: extreme subconscious distress, unaddressed trauma

Symptoms: the one experiencing the night terror – is completely still. However, they are unaware they are kicking, screaming and yelling during the episode.

Treatment: can be treated with sleep therapy or other forms of therapy – traditional psychotherapy, plant medicine, alternative medicine.

Unlike nightmares, the parasomnia ‘night terrors’ are easy to identify: a ‘piercing scream’, kicking, screaming and sweating are common. While observers can see the individual in extreme distress, they are unresponsive to comfort. 

Instead, many parents and caregivers simply just need to wait by while the terror resolves itself – which can take a distressing 90 minutes. 

Another disparity between night terrors are nightmares is their frequency: terrors are quite rare, only reported by approximately 3-6% of the population. 

Another difference from nightmares is the timing: night terrors occur in the first two thirds of the evening, as they occur in NREM sleep. 

Lastly, similarly to nightmares, the cause is typically stress.

3: Sleepwalking

Age: adults – 4%, children, up to 29%.

Causes: alcohol use, a psychiatric disorder or episode, stress

Symptoms: engaging in daytime activities – walking, cooking, reading – whilst asleep, but their eyes are open

Treatment: can be treated with sleep therapy or other forms of therapy – traditional psychotherapy, plant medicine, alternative medicine.

Sleep walking isn’t really an appropriate name – it’s much more than just walking. For this parasomnia, making food, using the bathroom – sleepwalkers go about their daily activities just as if they were awake.

However, as they are in deep sleep, they are unresponsive of what they are actually doing, which can lead to danger.

As such, fortunately only a 4% of the adult population sleepwalks. However, for kids, this is as high as 29% for children. Regarding risk factors, again, stress is at the core: 66% of sleepwalkers report a highly stressful event in the days prior to their episode. 

Similarly, those with anxiety or depression are 4 times more likely to sleepwalk. Alcohol is another predisposing factor, as is medication use. 

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smart, savvy and more than just a sleep expert.

Hi, I'm Olivia.

If you want raw, real and unfiltered Olivia, my blog is where you'll find it.
As an author and avid writer, I find immense pleasure in sharing the ins and outs - without holding back - of my journey through life.
Professionally, I'm a sleep expert - but i'm guessing you already know that.
Personally, I'm a free-flowing, idealistic introvert who loves to travel, dance and enjoy an Aperol Spritz.

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