Besides the many commonly-diagnosed and treatable sleep disorders there are also a number of more unusual conditions that can take place during sleep. Known as ‘parasomnias’, these sleep disorders are categorised by atypical or abnormal physical occurrences and cover a wide-range of puzzling actions. While most parasomnias defy conventional explanation, they almost certainly indicate a generally poor sleep quality.
Sleepwalking - somnambulism - is a mysterious and fascinating parasomnia, characterised by the sufferer getting up out of bed during their sleep. Although known as sleep-‘walking’, somnambulism actually covers a whole host of movements besides walking, from simply sitting up, right through to many rather complex and complicated activities that one would assume required full, wakeful attention. While very little is understood about why sleepwalking takes place, it is known to most commonly occur when the sufferer is in the NREM (slow wave) phase of sleep. In most cases the sleepwalker will have no recollection whatsoever of their nocturnal activities.
Sleep-talking - somniloquy - can range from gentle, quiet and brief vocalisations right through to clearly spoken monologues that go on for several minutes. Although it occurs most frequently during childhood, sleep-talking can happen at any age. It’s not known with any certainty what actually brings on bouts of sleep-talking, and as such it doesn’t have any clear treatments to prevent it. Naturally, sleep-talking can be a highly disturbing and alarming occurrence for anyone sharing the bed with a sufferer, especially when the somniloquy involves shouting or other loud sounds. Also, if someone is prone to sleep-talking regularly then it will almost certainly have an impact on their partner’s long-term sleep quality.
Bruxism is the medical term given to teeth grinding. Surprisingly, sleep bruxism is thought to affect around 10% of the population, making it a relatively common parasomnia. Bruxism is closely linked to a number of other conditions, most notably stress and anxiety, and it has also been connected to other sleep disorders including sleep apnoea. The effects of bruxism can be quite severe, with teeth degradation, muscle pain and in extreme cases the development of a condition called temporomandibular joint disorder, which can impact on hearing quality, among the potential outcomes.
Sleep paralysis is one of the more unsettling parasomnias, as it creates the effect of being physically paralysed after a sudden awakening either while going to sleep or waking up in the morning. The disconcerting and confusing experience can be made worse when coming out of a vivid dream, as the line between imagination and reality is momentarily blurred. While many people will suffer a sleep paralysis incident just once or twice, if at all, in their lifetimes, others may find it a distressingly regular occurrence. Considering the symptoms of sleep paralysis it’s not surprising that the condition has supernatural connotations in many cultures around the world. The frightening demonic appearance of incubus and succubus described in folklore is one of many otherworldly experiences that have a close similarity to sleep paralysis.
High stress and anxiety are commonly related to many parasomnias, and the unusual behaviour and actions that they involve do certainly hint at an inability to fully relax. By following a healthy lifestyle, sticking to a good diet and making an effort to create a positive sleep environment where relaxation is prioritised, you’re giving yourself the best chance of both avoiding the onset of any parasomnia-related sleep disorder and achieving consistently good sleep.