Banner Health
Making healthcare easier


It’s not uncommon to talk in your sleep every once in a while, and you probably know someone who would sleep walk as a child. But sometimes these strange occurrences while we sleep can affect our daily lives. If these nightly disruptions are creeping into your day and impairing your ability to be your best self, our sleep medicine doctors can help.

What is Parasomnia?

Parasomnia is a sleep disorder that causes abnormal behavior during sleep. This abnormal behavior can happen at any stage of sleep. Parasomnias are common but make it difficult for people to get a restful sleep and can also disrupt the sleep of others.

Types of Parasomnia

There are several types of parasomnia, including:


Walking while asleep is referred to as sleepwalking or somnambulism. Sleepwalking is a very common parasomnia and can also involve sleep talking or doing normal activities while asleep. Sleepwalking usually happens at night but can also happen during naps.

Sleep Talking

Sleep talking is also a very common type of parasomnia. This parasomnia is characterized by talking when a person is asleep. Talking can range from mumbling to full conversations. Sleep talking can happen during any part of the night but is easier to understand during lighter stages of sleep.

Sleep-Related Groaning

Loud groaning that happens during sleep is referred to as sleep-related groaning (catathrenia). This sound usually happens when a person exhales slowly and deeply. Sleep-related groans can sound like loud humming, roaring or high-pitched cracking sounds. In some cases, sleep-related groaning can be mistaken as snoring, but is not related to breathing issues.


Nightmares are intense or troubling dreams that can cause anger, anxiety or fear. Nightmares can make it difficult to fall back asleep and, in some cases, can happen multiple times a night. Nightmares usually happen during REM sleep, when a person is more likely to dream.

Nightmare disorder, characterized by frequent and distressing nightmares that significantly disrupt sleep and daily life, is a specific type of parasomnia. It can lead to sleep disturbances and impact overall well-being. 

Night Terrors

Night terrors, or sleep terrors, cause a person to suddenly wake up in a terrified state. Night terrors can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Night terrors can also cause:

  • Crying
  • Screaming
  • Skin flushing
  • Sweating
  • Fast heart rate

Night terrors are different from nightmares because they usually involve little to no dream activity and happen during non-REM sleep. Another notable parasomnia is an episode of sleep paralysis, where a person temporarily experiences an inability to move or speak while falling asleep or waking up. 


Bedwetting (nocturnal enuresis) is involuntary urination during sleep. It is most common in children (usually younger than 6 years old). Bedwetting usually occurs when the bladder has more urine than it can hold. Some cases of bedwetting don’t have an underlying cause, while others are due to other conditions, like urinary tract infections.

Confusional Arousal

Confusional arousal is the experience of waking up feeling very confused. You may have trouble understanding what you’re doing or where you are. If you have confusional arousal, you may also experience other behaviors, like slow speech, crying, poor memory or slow reaction time.

Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding (sleep bruxism) causes a person to clench or grind their teeth while sleeping. This condition can cause soreness in the jaw, face or neck, tooth pain or sensitivity as well as earache-like pains.

Sleep-Related Eating Disorders

A sleep-related eating disorder happens when a person binge eats and drinks during non-REM sleep. A person can be partly or fully conscious during this type of binge eating. These episodes happen frequently and are often accompanied with specific behaviors, such as:

  • Eating and drinking quickly
  • Eating unusual foods, like a stick of butter or unusual food combinations
  • Consuming toxic food, like uncooked meat

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder

People with REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) have vivid dreams and act them out during REM sleep. People with REM sleep behavior disorder often exhibit certain behaviors, including grabbing, kicking, shouting, punching and jumping. This type of sleep disorder is different from nightmares because the person  usually does not wake up or remember the episodes.

More unusual types of sleep parasomnias include:

  • Sleep texting, where a person sends text messages during sleep
  • Exploding head syndrome, where a person imagines a loud or sudden noise right as they’re about to fall asleep
  • Sexsomnia, where a person acts out sexual behaviors while asleep
  • Sleep driving, a rare form of sleepwalking that causes a person to drive while sleeping
  • Sleep-related scratching, where a person scratches during sleep and often wakes up with scratching, bleeding or cuts
  • Sleep-related hallucinations, which are hallucinations that one sees, feels or hears either while waking up or falling asleep

Factors and Symptoms of Parasomnia

Depending on the type of parasomnia, symptoms can vary. Aside from unusual behavior, individuals may experience sleep paralysis - a temporary inability to move or speak while falling asleep or waking up. Other common symptoms include waking up wondering where you are, feeling confused or disoriented and finding unfamiliar cuts on the body.

  • Waking up wondering where you are
  • Waking up confused or disoriented
  • Not remembering doing certain activities
  • Finding unfamiliar cuts on the body
  • Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
  • Having difficulty sleeping through the night

In many cases, parasomnia can be associated with other triggers, such as:

Diagnosis and Testing for Parasomnia

In order to diagnose parasomnia, your primary care doctor can help make an initial diagnosis but will likely refer you to a sleep specialist to further examine your sleep behavior. Diagnosis usually includes a review of your medical history, sleep history or a sleep study.

Treatment for Parasomnia

Parasomnia treatment depends on the type and severity of the parasomnia. In the cases of frequent or recurring parasomnia, medication can help manage it. Some medications prescribed to help treat parasomnia include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Melatonin
  • Topriamate
  • Levodopa
  • Benzodiazepines

However, if your parasomnia is caused by medication, your doctor may recommend a different medication or dose.

People with parasomnia may also benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of therapy often helps with mental health concerns, like stress and anxiety. Other methods that can be used alongside cognitive behavioral therapy include psychotherapy, relaxation therapy and hypnosis.

There are also some treatment options people can try at home, such as:

  • Scheduling awakenings, where a parent wakes a child about 15 to 30 minutes before they spontaneously wake up. This can help minimize behaviors that follow a certain pattern, such as sleepwalking and night terrors
  • Creating a safer sleep environment, such as sleeping alone, removing dangerous items from the home, locking doors and windows, placing the mattress on the floor and sleeping with extra padding

Parasomnia episodes can vary from person to person, which is why it’s important to talk to your doctor to receive an individualized treatment plan. Our sleep medicine experts are here to help you get a safe and comfortable night’s sleep.