Parasomnias, what they are and how to deal with them

Sleepwalking, bruxism, restless legs syndrome – here are the most frequent parasomnias, which can significantly disturb night rest.

There are those who sleep well and those who struggle to rest. And then there are the parasomnias. Manifestations that go beyond “simple” insomnia. They disturb sleep, but sometimes they are also a sign of a more general discomfort.

Insomnia, the classic one, has nothing to do with it: you have no difficulty falling asleep, and often you don’t even wake up during the night. Yet they are able to disturb in a rather significant way the rest (sometimes even that of those who sleep next to us).

They are parasomnias, which neurologists classify, along with insomnia, among sleep disorders and that sometimes in addition to being harmful in themselves, can be the indicator of another disease.

Sleepwalking: there are those who walk, and those who speak

The best known of the parasomnias is certainly sleepwalking. More widespread than you think, given that statistics speak of 15% of the population: the disorder is more frequent in boys between 4 and 8 years and decreases in adulthood.

Fortunately, in most cases the demonstrations are less egregious than those popularized by films and comedy skits. Only a minority of sleepwalkers walk, most simply sit on the bed and make unconscious movements while continuing to sleep, or talk (in this case we speak more specifically of somniloquy or verbal sleepwalking).

Sleepwalking itself is not dangerous – apart from the risk of falling or getting hurt – and according to recent studies it could have genetic origins. There are no specific therapies, for adults you can try to stem the symptoms with benzodiazepines.

For children, in whom the greater frequency of the disorder also seems linked to the attempt to rework anxieties and tensions, it is preferable to orient themselves towards psychological support.

Bruxism: that annoying grinding of teeth

Another rather common disorder that compromises night rest is bruxism, or the habit of clenching and grinding teeth unconsciously, especially during sleep.

Those who suffer from it – 8-9% of the population according to statistics – sleep poorly and often wake up with sore jaws or headaches, not forgetting that continuous rubbing can damage teeth. Not to mention that, often, it also disturbs the sleep of those close to him.

Since at the base of the disorder there are anxiety and stress, the most effective choice would be to fight it by intervening on the causes. As a palliative, you can use a bite, an appliance in resinous or rubbery material – purchased at the pharmacy or tailor-made by the dentist – to be introduced into the mouth to avoid ruining the teeth. Or muscle relaxant medications that help reduce muscle contractions.

Restless legs syndrome

If bruxism affects both sexes indifferently, it is mainly women and the elderly who suffer from restless legs syndrome – or Restless Legs Syndrome – a pathological restlessness of the limbs that is accentuated at bedtime, with tingling itching or sensations similar to an electric shock.

Of probable genetic origin – 60% of those who suffer from it have other cases in the family – affects about 5% of the population. In some cases, about 20% according to recent studies, the origin of the disorder is a deficiency of iron or other nutrients (folate or magnesium), but it can also be a symptom of other diseases such as venous varices, peripheral neuropathies such as those caused by diabetes or autoimmune diseases.

The disorder can also be triggered or aggravated by the sudden discontinuation in the use of anxiolytic drugs or sleeping pills, or by the consumption of drugs that act on the dopaminergic system, such as some antiemetics and antihistamines, many antidepressants (tricyclic or SSRIs), antispasmodics and some anticonvulsants.

Except in specific cases where iron-based therapy solves the problem, symptoms can be alleviated with sedative drugs, such as benzodiazepines or dopaminergics, generally the same ones used to treat Parkinson’s disease.

But it is also possible to improve the situation with some precautions: avoid the intake of alcohol and stimulants (coffee, tea, chocolate), perform some relaxation exercises before rest, do physical activity and alternating hot / cold showers on the legs.

The list goes on

To complete the list of parasomnias, other disorders, such as nocturia, or the need to get up several times from bed to urinate, is the cause of sleep disturbance especially among the elderly (65% of subjects between 55 and 84 years according to the US National Sleep Foundation) and pavor nocturnus, night terror attacks that mainly affect children.

Joycelyn Elders is the author and creator of EmpowerEssence, a health and wellness blog. Elders is a respected public health advocate and pediatrician dedicated to promoting general health and well-being.

The blog covers a wide range of topics related to health and wellness, with articles organized into several categories.

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