Jefferson University Hospitals

Children with Parasomnia

A parasomnia is an undesirable physical event or experience that occurs during sleep. It is more frequent in childhood than in adolescence or adulthood. The most common parasomnias in children include sleepwalking, confusional arousals and sleep terrors. If your child is experiencing sleep problems, seek out the highly skilled specialists within Jefferson's Pediatric Sleep Medicine Program.

Children who sleepwalk are usually calm and don't demonstrate fear. The child may be found walking into the parents' bedroom, a bathroom or other areas of the house. Children who sleepwalk are at risk for injury if they climb through windows or attempt to walk down stairs.

Confusional arousals occur mainly in infants and toddlers and may begin with movements and moaning, then evolve to agitated behavior by calling out or crying. The child may appear confused with eyes open or closed. Unlike sleepwalking, physical injury is rarely seen. Confusional arousals may last 5 to 15 minutes but sometimes longer.

During sleep terrors, a child may sit up suddenly and scream with an intense look of fear. Sleep terrors are more prevalent in childhood than in adulthood.

Treatment Options

After a complete physical and neurological evaluation of your child, our sleep medicine specialists will recommend the best treatment option, including:

  • Reassuring parents that parasomnias are common in childhood and can be managed effectively
  • Counseling parents on instituting important safety measures during these events
  • Asking parents to maintain a sleep log to record sleep periods, arousals/awakenings and movements/behaviors
  • Sleep study to further monitor parasomnia events

Other Parasomnias in Children

  • Sleep paralysis begins in childhood or adolescence in most cases. It is an inability to speak or to move your body that occurs during the transitional period between sleep and wakefulness. It can last from one minute or less to several minutes.
  • Nightmares are common in children between the ages of 3 and 6. They are known as vivid dreams with intense feelings of terror or dread that awaken children from sleep.
  • In children less than 5 years old, bedwetting (sleep enuresis) is normal. For children over the age of 5 who still experience bedwetting, it may be caused by medical conditions such as diabetes or sleep apnea or by psychiatric disorders.
  • Children with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder is uncommon in children but can occur. It involves acting out dramatic and/or violent dreams during REM sleep. Injury can occur during these events by punching, grabbing or kicking while in a dream state.