Jefferson University Hospitals


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Abnormal behaviors during sleep – such as sleepwalking, sleeptalking and headbanging – are known as parasomnias. Both adults and children can suffer from this disorder. Rated a Top Hospital for Sleep Disorders by Philadelphia magazine, specialists of the Jefferson Sleep Disorders Center have the expertise to diagnose and treat your condition.

In order to get an accurate diagnosis of parasomnias, our sleep medicine specialists will:

  • Review your medical, psychiatric, family and alcohol/drug-use history
  • Conduct psychiatric and neurologic examinations
  • Perform a sleep study to monitor the activity in your brain, muscles, heart and eyes
  • Order other tests as necessary

If it's determined that you have parasomnia, our sleep medicine specialists will work with you to lessen the frequency and/or intensity of your condition with the help of medications, hypnosis and/or other psychological therapies. Our specialists will also recommend certain adjustments in your sleep patterns and sleep hygiene that may diminish parasomnia activity.

Types of Parasomnias

There are many different types of parasomnias:

  • Nightmares – vivid nocturnal events that can cause feelings of anxiety, fear and/or terror. They can be caused by many factors including illness, the loss of a loved one or negative reactions to a medication.
  • Sleep terrors/Night terrors – abruptly awakening from sleep in a terrified state and not remembering what happened the next morning. Night terrors last about 15 minutes, after which time the person usually lies down and appears to fall back asleep. They are fairly common in children ages 4 to 12 and can occur in up to 3 percent of adults.
  • Sleepwalking – occurs when a person appears to be awake and moving around but is actually asleep. Sleepwalkers don’t remember what happened the next morning. This disorder is most commonly seen in children ages 6 to 12 but can also occur among younger children, the elderly and adults.
  • Confusional arousals – also known as excessive sleep inertia or sleep drunkenness, people experiencing confusional arousals react slowly to commands and may have trouble understanding questions that they are asked. For children, the condition resolves spontaneously while the adult form may persist for a long time and cause things like sleep-related injury and sub-optimal performance at work.
  • Sleep paralysis – when you are not able to move the body or limbs when falling asleep or waking up. People experiencing sleep paralysis often are fearful because they do not know what is happening, but an episode may be stopped by sound or touch.
  • REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) – People with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder act out dramatic and/or violent dreams during REM sleep. REM sleep usually involves a state of paralysis (atonia), but people with this condition move the body or limbs while dreaming. Usually, RBD occurs in men aged 50 and older, but the disorder also can occur in women and in younger people. In the diagnosis and treatment of RBD, potentially serious neurological disorders must be ruled out. Polysomnography (sleep study) is involved in the diagnosis of this disorder. The treatment involves various behavioral measures, such as ensuring safety of the bedroom environment, preventing daytime activities that might increase the likelihood of RBD and various medications.
  • Bedwetting (sleep enuresis) – unable to maintain urinary control when asleep. It can be caused by medical conditions such as diabetes or sleep apnea or by psychiatric disorders.