We usually see sleep as the most peaceful part of the day, when the body and everything around it unplugs for a couple of hours. Internal systems seize a valuable moment of ease as a wave of calm sweeps over the mind like the warm covers that surround you.
But there can be nights when the stranger side of sleep comes to life, when the full power of sleep performs in a way that still puzzles modern science.
Today we’re going to delve into the times of the night that aren’t so sleep and sound; waking up the perplexing personas of parasomnias.
What you Need to Know About Parasomnias
Parasomnias are a group of the most physically engaging sleep disorders, and can cause you to speak, move your body, express emotion and do some really strange things; all beyond the realms of consciousness.
The type of parasomnia depends on the stage of sleep you’re in. Because there are two stages, being non-rapid eye movement (Non-REM) and rapid eye movement (REM), parasomnias are grouped into two main categories:
Non-REM forms the first three stages of the cycle, beginning from the moment you start to slip into sleep. The body temperature, blood pressure and breathing all begin to slow, the muscles relax and it’s towards the end of Non-REM that the deepest and most restorative phase of sleep occurs.
During these first three stages, it’s most likely that the following parasomnias will occur:
Also known as somnambulism, sleepwalking causes the body to act out physically, and you’ll be completely unaware when it’s happening.
Sometimes the movements can be small, like sitting up in bed or raising your hands, whilst other examples can manifest in quite alarming ways.
There have been many documented cases of people leaving their homes whilst in this state, and it can cause you to unintentionally put yourself in danger.
You suddenly wake up screaming and you don’t know why - that’s sleep terrors. This terrifying tenure can last anywhere between 30 seconds and a full minute, and it may cause you to scream and thrash into thin air; without fully understanding why you’re doing it. The breathing narrows, the body sweats profusely and your dilated pupils fill your saucer-like eyes with dreadful darkness.
This sleep disorder wakes up your appetite, even if it’s already full, and is the true definition of a midnight snack. The only problem is that you won’t realise you’re even eating, or what you’re eating for that matter.
The strange phenomenon is closely linked with somnambulism, but its habits are almost always exclusively hungry. Your sleep is literally robbing your fridge, which over the long term can have dire consequences for your health and weight.
You’ve woken up but your memory is nowhere to be found. People who wake up with confusional arousal, being commonly children, will have trouble recognising reality, and will most likely find speaking or understanding simple questions quite challenging.
The confusion and disorientation may last for a few minutes, but can linger for many hours even after you’ve woken up.
Non-REM parasomnias will render the body completely unresponsive, despite the actions of others. It’s an urban myth that waking someone from this state can be fatal, but the kindest thing to do is to either leave them be, or to lead them gently back to bed.
During an episode, you will be neither awake nor aware of what’s going on, and you’ll struggle to remember that anything even happened when you do eventually come around.
Non-REM parasomnias are more common in people aged 25 and under, although they can still be very prevalent in people beyond that scale. In this case, Non-REM parasomnias come as a hereditary trait; passed down from person to person.
Now we’re going to move on to group two; the strangest of them all.
REM sleep is the last stage of the cycle, when the eyes begin to move rapidly under the eyelids, and the blood pressure, heart rate and breathing all begin to rise and get faster. REM sleep is when your nighttime brain is at its most active, and is the period when dreams usually occur.
During the sleep cycle finale, you’ll be prone to encountering some of these parasomnias:
This sleep disorder causes the limbs to be completely immobile, and usually happens in the transition between sleep and wakefulness. Some might even feel like they’re being choked.
When in an episode, which might last for a few seconds or up to a minute, you’ll be unable to speak or move in any way, and it’s especially common in people who are experiencing long term and severe cases of sleep deprivation.
REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder (RBD)
This is when the body acts out a violent and disturbing dream that it’s having, and can be accompanied by acute arm and leg movements, audible cries and aggressive, unconscious behaviour.
RBD is particularly common with elderly people who suffer from neurodegenerative disease, but can also be triggered by the onset of a brain injury.
The brain’s most active phase can generate some of the scariest sensations, and this ability couldn’t be more prominent than during the sensation of a nightmare. Although only lasting a couple of seconds or so, a nightmare can feel like a lifetime, one where we perceive everything to be a threatening reality.
You’ll have lots of trouble returning to your once-peaceful sleep since entering your sudden and frightful state of wakefulness; the feeling of immediate danger flooding over into your now-conscious thoughts.
REM parasomnias are the easiest to recall, and can take place when you’re both partially awake or fully asleep. Unlike their counterpart, REM parasomnias are not passed down through your family, and can happen to anyone at any time.
The REM and non-REM cycle resets and repeats every 90 to 110 minutes, often fluctuating between these different states of sleep.
The effect these sleep disorders have on the body are profound, and many areas of the phenomenon aren’t fully understood by the sleep science community.
However, you can rest assured as it’s extremely rare for a case to be fatal; despite how terrifying the experience might be.
There’s another small subsection of parasomnias that fall into the ‘other category’; disorders that aren’t restricted to one phase of the sleep cycle.
These include exploding head syndrome, when you hear crashing sounds and see flashing lights as you wake up or fall asleep; sleep enuresis, otherwise known as bedwetting; and sleep groaning, when you inexplicably grunt and moan during sleep.
Treatment for Parasomnias
Parasomnias are almost always linked in some way to sleep deprivation, although the consumption of alcohol, lifetime trauma and illness can all be contributing factors. But luckily, there are a few simple solutions to many of these bewildering nighttime experiences.
Parasomnias are the body’s way of telling you that your sleep pattern is too hectic, and keeping a sleep routine in line each night will prevent any experiences from flying astray. Try to wake up and go to sleep around the same time every day, and always adhere to your morning alarm.
Plenty of Water
A dehydrated mind does some crazy things to sleep, and can influence both the speed and quality of the REM and non-REM cycle. Always be sure to have a water bottle by your side to keep the health of your sleep flowing.
Great sleep depends on the accessibility of total pitch black darkness, as the body cannot produce the sleep hormone melatonin when it’s exposed to excess light. Luckily, this is a department where our iconic 3D Blackout Sleep Mask excels, and it’s accessories like these that are going to lessen the blow of parasomnias by training your sleep into a better cycle.
Pain is like a speed bump to the restorative process of sleep, and can contribute greatly towards things like insomnia and sleep deprivation. Try applying the gentle heat of a lavender oil body wrap the next time physical pain is preventing you from scoring sleep.
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