Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, dysregulated sleep cycles, and, in some cases, cataplexy (sudden muscle weakness). Another group of sleep disorders, known as parasomnias, are characterized by sleep disturbances such as sleepwalking, sleep terrors, or sleep-related eating disorders. Although narcolepsy and parasomnias have their differences, they can overlap and occur alongside each other.
Parasomnias are disruptive sleep-related disorders. They involve abnormal talking, moving, or other actions carried out before falling asleep, during sleep, or upon waking, such as:
Parasomnias that occur during NREM sleep tend to involve physical actions and verbal behaviors. These types of parasomnias include the following.
Sleepwalking involves walking around, moving things, and performing other complex actions while actually asleep.
Confusional arousal is a dissociated state that features characteristics of both sleep and wakefulness — you may appear to be awake, but you’re disoriented and your behavior is strange. Later, you may not remember what happened during the arousal from sleep.
A sleep-related eating disorder is marked by a compulsion to eat (usually high-calorie food) while in the midst of sleep. During a sleep-related eating disorder episode, you may have partial consciousness or complete unawareness of your behavior.
REM sleep behavior disorder is characterized by acting out or vocalizing your dreams, sometimes violently.
Sleep paralysis is when you cannot move or are temporarily paralyzed, either immediately before falling asleep or just before waking. Sleep paralysis can happen with or without narcolepsy — without narcolepsy, it’s called isolated sleep paralysis.
There are several sleep parasomnias not associated with specific stages of sleep. These include:
Parasomnias commonly affect children, but sometimes these disorders persist into adulthood. The causes of parasomnias have been linked to mental health or psychiatric conditions, such as epilepsy or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Medications that disrupt sleep — such as antidepressants — can also cause some parasomnias. Research even indicates that parasomnias have a genetic component. Importantly, other sleep disorders — including narcolepsy — can cause some parasomnias.
Narcolepsy can cause symptoms associated with several parasomnias. Some researchers have also hypothesized that parasomnias are an early stage of narcolepsy type 2 (narcolepsy without cataplexy). The parasomnias most commonly associated with narcolepsy are sleep paralysis, REM sleep behavior disorder, and sleep-related hallucinations. Narcolepsy and parasomnias can be comorbid, meaning a person can experience both conditions simultaneously.
Like narcolepsy, parasomnias have no cure, but you can manage their symptoms with medications. Benzodiazepine drugs, such as Klonopin (clonazepam) or Xanax (alprazolam), are often first-line treatments for many parasomnias. In general, the following recommendations may help reduce the effects of parasomnias:
MyNarcolepsyTeam is the social network for people with narcolepsy and their loved ones. On MyNarcolepsyTeam, members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with narcolepsy.
Are you living with narcolepsy or parasomnias? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyNarcolepsyTeam.
Easily manage your subscription from the emails themselves.