Parasomnia refers to a wide variety of disruptive, sleep-related events or, "disorders of arousal." These behaviors and experiences occur usually while sleeping, and most are often infrequent and mild. They may however happen often enough to become so bothersome that medical attention should be sought out. "Parasomnias are disorders characterized by abnormal behavior or physiological events occurring in association with sleep stages, or sleep-wake transitions."(DSM pg. 435)
Arousal disorders are the most common type of parasomnia. These disorders include: confusional arousals, sleepwalking, sleep terrors and nightmares. Experts believe that each is related and share some symptoms. Essentially, they occur because a person is in a mixed state of being both asleep and awake, generally coming from the deepest stage of non-dreaming sleep. The individual is awake enough to act out complex behaviors, but asleep enough not to be aware of or remember them.
Arousal disorders (parasomnia) are common in young children but may occur in adults as well. These disorders tend to run in families and might be made worse when overly tired or stressed, a high fever, or when taking certain medications.
Confusional Arousals can occur at any age. "Confusional arousals consist of confusion during and following arousals from deep sleep in the first part of the night" Stanford (1972). This disorder often occurs in infants and toddlers, but may also be seen in adults. These episodes may begin with a person crying and thrashing around in bed. The individual may appear to be awake, even confused and upset, yet resists all attempts by others to comfort them. It's also very difficult to wake someone up when they are in this state. The episode may last up to thirty minutes to an hour and it usually ends with the person calming, waking briefly and then wanting to go back to bed. The individual usually will have no recollection of this event in the morning so it would be either the parents, or the spouses' responsibility to bring this to the individuals attention.
Sleepwalking is commonly seen in older children. It ranges from getting out of bed to prolonged and complex actions. "Sleepwalking occurs relatively often among children; one can even cause it intentionally simply by picking up a child or adult in deep sleep and standing them on their feet" Borbely (1986). In adults, sleepwalking could indicate a personality disturbance. For instance, a good amount of adults that sleepwalk are suffering from depression. It is thought that this condition is hereditary and can be brought on by stress, also by not getting enough sleep or a high fever.
The typical sleepwalking episode begins about three hours after the individual has fallen deeply asleep and it will usually last about five to twenty minutes. During one of these episodes the sleepwalker's eyes are generally open. However, we don't think they can see their surroundings...