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Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Arousal Disorders

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

What is Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Arousal Disorders?

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • ongoing issues with not completely waking up from sleep, which usually happens during the first third of the night, and involves one of the following:
    • Sleepwalking - the person gets up from bed and walks around, but is not awake. They may have a blank stare on their face, aren't very receptive to talking with others, and have trouble being awakened by others.
    • Sleep Terrors - the person has a sudden terror episode while sleeping. This usually starts with a sudden panicky scream and then the person has intense fear, a racing heart rate, rapid breathing, and sweating. The person does not wake up completely while it is happening and has trouble being comforted by others while it is happening.
  • The person can remember very little or nothing of the dreams that occurred.
  • They don't remember the episode at all. For example, when a family member asks them about what they were trying to do during sleepwalking or what the terrifying dream they had that caused them to scream was the person is completely unaware that it happened at all.
  • these issues cause stress in the person's life or trouble in functioning at work, in relationships with others, or other daily activities.
  • the issues are not caused by a substance (medication or drug of abuse).
  • there isn't another medical or mental health condition that explains the sleepwalking or sleep terrors.

How common is Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Arousal Disorders?

This condition is most commonly found in children and gets less as the person gets older. Sleepwalking in adults for the first time should be checked out as there may be another cause including obstructive sleep apnea, seizures during sleep, or effects from a medication being taken.

What are the risk factors for Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Arousal Disorders?

Up to 80% of those who have a family member who sleepwalks or has sleep terrors, will sleepwalk. Those who have a parent, brother or sister with sleep terrors have a 10% higher risk of having sleep terrors.

Other risks include use of medications to fall asleep (sedatives), sleep deprivation, sleep-wake schedule disruptions, fatigue, and emotional or physical stress.

What other disorders or conditions often occur with Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Arousal Disorders?

Those who have sleepwalking episodes may be more likely to have depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and those who have sleep terrors may have depression or anxiety symptoms.

How is Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Arousal Disorders treated?

Most children will eventually outgrow sleep walking or sleep terrors, but treatments can be used. For sleepwalking, these include setting healthy sleep habits. This would be setting regular bedtimes, looking at the types of activities done before bed that could be causing a problem (exercise, too much television or screen time, eating or drinking, etc.) and creating a relaxing and predictable bedtime routine.

Those with sleep terrors may be helped by being awakened during the night. Since the terrors usually happen in the first third of the night's sleep, a pattern can often be found after a few episodes. Then the person can be awakened just before it would usually happen. If the person can fall back to sleep afterwards, it can help create a healthier sleep cycle.