Parasomnias, Sleep Disorders | Tampa General Hospital


Parasomnia is an umbrella term for disruptive, sleep-related disorders. 

A parasomnia is a sleep disorder that involves unusual behaviors and undesirable physical events or experiences that disrupt your sleep. Parasomnias affect approximately 10% of Americans and are grouped by the stage of sleep in which they happen. The two main stages of sleep are non-rapid eye movement (Non-REM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. 

Parasomnias that happen during Non-REM sleep include:  

  • Sleep terrors 
  • Sleepwalking (somnambulism) 
  • Confusional arousals 
  • Sleep-related eating disorder 

Parasomnias that happen during REM sleep include: 

  • Nightmare disorder 
  • Recurrent isolated sleep paralysis 
  • REM sleep behavior disorder (RSBD) 

Other parasomnias include: 

  • Exploding head syndrome 
  • Sleep enuresis (bedwetting)
  • Sleep-related hallucinations 

Parasomnias Causes

Parasomnias can be caused by issues that disrupt sleep and other general health issues. Sleep-disruptive issues that can cause a parasomnia are: 

  • Incomplete transition from being awake to the stages of sleep 
  • Lack of sleep 
  • Irregular sleep-wake schedules (jet lag or shift work) 
  • Medications, including those that cause drowsiness or treat depression, psychotic disorders, high blood pressure, seizures, asthma/allergies or infections 
  • Medical issues that disrupt sleep, such as restless leg syndrome, obstructive sleep apnea, pain, narcolepsy, sleep deprivation, circadian rhythm disorders or periodic limb movement disorder 
  • Lack of maturity of the sleep-wake cycle (in children with parasomnias) 

Other general health issues that may cause a parasomnia include: 

  • Fever 
  • Stress 
  • Alcohol or substance abuse 
  • Head injury 
  • Pregnancy or menstruation 
  • Genetics or family history of parasomnia 
  • Psychiatric illness, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder 
  • Neurological disease, including Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia, stroke, multiple system atrophy, multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, migraines and spinocerebellar ataxia type three 

Parasomnias Symptoms 

Each type of parasomnia has unique features and will present differently. However, some of the more common symptoms include: 

  • Difficulty sleeping through the night 
  • Waking up confused or disoriented 
  • Being tired during the day 
  • Finding cuts and bruises on your body for which you don’t remember the cause 
  • Displaying movements, expressions, vocalizations or activities that you don’t remember (as told to you by your bed partner) 

Parasomnias Diagnosis 

In order to accurately diagnose your parasomnia, you should see a sleep medicine specialist—many of which can be found at Tampa General Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center. They may ask you to complete a sleep diary for two weeks and have your bed partner keep track of your sleep events. Tests that can also be done to help diagnose your parasomnia include: 

  • Sleep study (polysomnogram) 
  • Video electroencephalogram (EEG) or sleep EEG 
  • Neurologic exam, CT or MRI scan  

Parasomnias Treatments 

Your healthcare provider will discuss the best treatment options—medications, management strategies and/or psychologic approaches—for your specific type of parasomnia considering your unique health history and medical issues.