, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 753–775 | Cite as

Parasomnias: An Updated Review

  • Michael J. Howell


Parasomnias are abnormal behaviors emanating from or associated with sleep. Sleepwalking and related disorders result from an incomplete dissociation of wakefulness from nonrapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Conditions that provoke repeated cortical arousals, or promote sleep inertia lead to NREM parasomnias by impairing normal arousal mechanisms. Changes in the cyclic alternating pattern, a biomarker of arousal instability in NREM sleep, are noted in sleepwalking disorders. Sleep-related eating disorder (SRED) is characterized by a disruption of the nocturnal fast with episodes of feeding after an arousal from sleep. SRED is often associated with the use of sedative-hypnotic medications; in particular, the widely prescribed benzodiazepine receptor agonists. Recently, compelling evidence suggests that nocturnal eating may in some cases be a nonmotor manifestation of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). rapid eye movement (REM) Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) is characterized by a loss of REM paralysis leading to potentially injurious dream enactment. The loss of atonia in RBD often predates the development of Parkinson’s disease and other disorders of synuclein pathology. Parasomnia behaviors are related to an activation (in NREM parasomnias) or a disinhibition (in RBD) of central pattern generators (CPGs). Initial management should focus on decreasing the potential for sleep-related injury followed by treating comorbid sleep disorders. Clonazepam and melatonin appear to be effective therapies in RBD, whereas paroxetine has been reported effective in some cases of sleep terrors. At this point, pharmacotherapy for other parasomnias is less certain, and further investigations are necessary.


Parasomnia Sleepwalking Sleep terrors REM sleep behavior disorder Restless legs syndrome 


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© The American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics, Inc. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Neurology, University of Minnesota Medical Center, Sleep Disorders CenterUniversity of MinnesotaMinnesotaUSA

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