Parasomnias: Nightmares, Night Terrors, Sleepwalking and the Connections to Psychopathology

This literature review examines articles regarding the parasomnias; nightmares, night terrors and sleepwalking. The defining characteristics of each parasomnia, correlations between the parasomnias and comorbidity with other psychiatric diagnoses are evaluated. Findings indicate that while there is a substantial genetic influence in early experience of these sleep disorders, late adolescent onset or early adult onset is more correlated to additional psychopathology. The parasomnias as a whole are mostly comorbid with anxiety. Stress and life events played a major role in the event of each of the parasomnias. Night terrors are by far the most devastating of the parasomnias with the highest indications for psychopathology and behavioral violence. The general assumption is that the parasomnias are usually harmless but research defines a different picture. Self medication is often involved in an attempt to cope. Numerous case reports of self injury, injury to others, death and even murders while experiencing parasomnias behoove the therapeutic community to understand their potentially serious nature.

Denise A. Lustman
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