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A parasomnia is a type of sleep disorder that involves abnormal movements, behaviours, emotions, perceptions & dreams that take place while falling asleep, sleeping, between the different sleep stages or during arousal from sleep. The parts of the brain can be in different states at the same time and it happens when some parts are still asleep and others parts are awake. It is important to know that these are common in children & that they have no control over these, the episodes are often short but can sometimes last up to between 30-40 minutes.

As a child's body & brain continue to grow and develop, sometimes parasomnias can appear and in the most healthiest and happiest of children! It is often more disturbing for the parent than it is for the child as they often have no recollection of what has taken place.

Parasomnias include:

  • Confusion Arousals

*child will often sit up in bed and appear to be confused

*they may call out to their parents or cry but they do not appear to be fully awake

*research shows that up to 17% of children have confusion arousals and they are the most common between the ages of 2 & 5 years.

  • Sleep Walking

*occurs during the transition from Stage 3 sleep in to lighter sleep usually in the first third of the night

*starts off as a confusion arousal but is sleep walking if the child gets out of bed

*the child is asleep during the sleep walking episode

*gets out of bed, moves around & can walk slowly, run or even hit out

*often carry out very confused or odd behaviours i.e urinating in a cupboard

*can often carry out complex activities that they normally would not be able to carry out in the day

*are not able to recall what has taken place

*safety is important for the child when dealing with this

  • Night terrors

*occurs during the transition from Stage 3 sleep in to lighter sleep usually in the first third of the night

*child is asleep during the episode

*will often sit up in bed and appear very fearful or distressed

*is often very alarming for the parent

*as much as parent tries to comfort the child often they do not respond and have to wait until episode has passed

*there is often no recall of what has taken place

*parents tend to worry about future mental health problems, however there is no evidence & links to support this

  • Sleep talking

* also known as somniloquy

*seems to affect more boys than girls (as well as in the case of sleep walking)

*no recall of what has taken place

*completely harmless for the child

Nightmares are completely normal and are not categorised as a parasomnia

Some common factors that can trigger episodes of parasomnias are:

  • New surroundings

  • Sleep deprivation

  • Stress

  • Fevers

Although parasomnias are common & harmless some children or parents can be greatly disturbed by them. When parasomnias are recurrent over time, sometimes other sleep disorders can be the trigger, e.g PLMD & Obstructive Sleep Apnea. If you have any concerns you should always consult your GP.

However if none of those factors could be affecting your child, parasomnias do not usually require intervention unless in the instances of safety regarding your child. They usually improve with age and it is usually better not to attempt to wake the child during an episode.

Words of affirmation: More often than not it is nothing to worry about as your child goes through this stage of their lives.

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