Parasomnias are abnormalities or undesirable behaviors that occur during transitions between sleep stages including nightmares, sleepwalking, and bedwetting (sleep enuresis). Although people experiencing parasomnias usually won’t remember being awake, parasomnias are considered abnormal arousals during sleep. Symptoms of parasomnias include daytime sleepiness, poor mood, lack of concentration, and waking up feeling unrefreshed.

What causes parasomnias?

Many parasomnias occur more frequently in children than adults, which means most people outgrow them after adolescence. Around 66 percent of adults will experience at least one parasomnia at some point, and 12 percent will have five or more.

Through some parasomnias occur without a known cause, others result from a medical disorder or using a medication or substance.

Certain conditions and medications increase the risk of parasomnias including

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Sleep restriction
  • Alcohol use
  • Chronic pain
  • Medications including sedative hypnotics, stimulants, neuroleptics, zolpidem (Ambien) and trazadone.

Diagnosing parasomnias

If you think you might have a parasomnia disorder, your healthcare provider may ask you to keep a sleep diary for at least two weeks. However, you may not be able to accurately record all of your symptoms, because you don’t remember them. So a sleep specialist may order a polysomnogram, or an overnight sleep study, to measure brain waves, heart rate and breathing during sleep.


Parasomnias include common conditions like sleepwalking and sleep talking, experienced by over two-thirds of adults at some point. However, this category of disorders also includes some less common conditions like sleep-related eating and REM sleep behavior disorder.