Sleep disorders - An Africa Perspective: Types And Symptoms (Parasomnia)



Esimates of sleep disorders.



What is Parasomnia?


Parasomnia refers to a group of sleep disorders that involve unusual and undesirable physical events or experiences that disrupt sleep.


A parasomnia can occur during slow wave sleep (SWS) (i.e., Non-REM) or during arousal from sleep (REM).


If you suffer from a parasomnia, you may have abnormal movements, talk, express emotions or do unusual things during sleep.


Examples of Non-REM parasomnia include:


  • Sleep terrors: 
  • Sleep walking (Somnambulism)
  • Confusional arousals, and
  • Sleep related eating disorder


Symptoms of Non-REM associated parasomnias are:


  • Sleep terrors: If you experience this disorder you may describe waking up suddenly in a terrified state.

You may scream or cry out of fear. You may also have racing heartbeat, fast breathing, increased sweating and wide open eyes with dilated pupils.

The experience may last about 30 seconds to a few minutes.


  • Sleepwalking (somnambulism): If you experience sleepwalking, you may get out of bed and move about with your eyes wide open, but you’re actually asleep.

You may mumble or talk (sleep talking). You may bump into objects or fall down.

You may perform complex activities – such as driving or playing a musical instrument – or do strange things like pee in a closet or move furniture.

Sleepwalking can be dangerous and lead to injuries because you’re unaware of your surroundings.


  • Confusional arousals: If you experience this sleep disorder, you may appear to be partially awake, yet you are confused and disoriented to time and space.

You remain in bed, may sit up, have your eyes open, and may cry.

You may speak slowly, have trouble understanding questions that are asked or responding in a sensible way.

The episode may last from a few minutes to hours.

This sleep disorder is common in children and tends to decrease in frequency with increasing age.


  • Sleep-related eating disorder: If you experience this sleep disorder, you may eat and drink while you’re partially awake. You may eat foods or food combinations you wouldn’t eat if awake

This disorder is dangerous as you may eat inedible or toxic foods, eat unhealthy or too much food, or get injured while preparing or cooking foods.


Examples of REM associated parasomnia include:


  • Nightmare disorder
  • Sleep paralysis
  • REM sleep behaviour disorder
  • Sleep enuresis (Bed wetting)
  • Sleep related hallucinations
  • Sleep related groaning
  • Sex related acts (Sexomania)
  • Bruxism (Teeth grinding)


Symptoms of REM associated parasomnias are:


  • Nightmare disorder: If you experience this disorder, you may have vivid dreams that create feelings of fear, terror and/or anxiety in you.

You may feel a threat to your survival or security.

If you are awakened during your nightmare experience, you would be able to describe your dream in detail.

You may have trouble falling back to sleep.

Nightmare disorder is often more associated with stress or after experiencing a traumatic event, illness/fever, extreme tiredness or after alcohol consumption


  • Sleep paralysis: If you experience this sleep disorder, you can’t move your body or limbs during sleep.

The condition may happens either before you fall asleep or as you are waking up and lasts seconds to a few minutes.

It can be distressing, usually causing anxiety or fear.

Sleep paralysis can be stopped if your bed partner speaks to you or touches you.


  • REM sleep behavior disorder (RSBD): If you experience this sleep disorder, you may act out, vocalize (e.g., talk, swear, laugh, and shout), or make aggressive movements (e.g., punching, kicking, grabbing).

These activities are usually a reaction to a violent dream.

This sleep disorder is more common among older adults.

It is a risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia, Multiple system atrophy or Stroke.


  • Sleep enuresis (bedwetting): This condition is different from the bedwetting that occasionally occurs in young children.

To be a parasomnia, a bedwetting must happen in children age five and older and must occur at least two times a week for at least three months.


  • Sleep-related hallucinations: If you experience this sleep disorder, you may have hallucinations as you’re falling asleep or waking up.

You may see things, hear things, feel things or feel movement that doesn’t really exist. You may leave your bed to escape what you’re experiencing.


  • Sleep-related groaning (catathrenia): With this sleep disorder, you have repeat episodes of groaning noises (long groans followed by sighs or grunts) during sleep.


  • Sex-related acts (Sexsomnia): If you experience this sleep disorder, you may carry out sexual acts like intercourse, masturbation, sexual assault and fondling your bed partner or sexual vocalizations during sleep.


  • Teeth grinding during sleep (Sleep Bruxism): If you experience this sleep disorder, you may involuntarily stiffen you jaw and grind your teeth back and forth during sleep. This may cause wear and stress on your teeth and jaw and cause migraine and early morning headache.









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Published: February 7, 2023

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