A new study shows that episodes of sleepwalking and sleep terrors may be related to short, unpleasant, dreamlike mental activity. The study suggests that people with these sleep disorders may be acting out dreamlike thoughts. The results were published yesterday in the journal Sleep.
The French study involved 43 people with severe sleepwalking or sleep terrors. Their age ranged from 11 years to 72 years. They were compared with 25 healthy controls. Sleep was monitored during an overnight sleep study.
Participants also were interviewed. They were asked, “What was going through your mind at the very moment of the episodes, whenever the night?”
Thirty-eight people were able to reliably answer questions about their mental content during the sleepwalking and sleep terrors episodes. These recollections covered a lifetime span.
Results show that 71 percent of people reported at least one incident of dreamlike mental content associated with an episode of sleepwalking or sleep terrors. The action in the dreamlike thoughts corresponded with the observed behavior.
A total of 106 reports of dreamlike mental activity were collected. The mental content was brief; 95 percent of the reports involved a single visual scene.
These dreamlike thoughts were frequently unpleasant. About 84 percent involved apprehension, fear or terror; and 54 percent involved misfortune. In 24 percent of the reports the dreamer was the victim of aggression.
People with sleepwalking and sleep terrors reported more severe daytime sleepiness. They also had four times as many arousals from slow-wave sleep.
The authors noted that dreaming typically is associated with the sleep stage of rapid eye movement sleep. REM sleep dreams tend to be long, complex and vivid.
Complex mental activity has been reported in non-REM sleep during slow-wave sleep. But are these dreamlike thoughts really dreams? The authors reported that this question is still debated.
So what does this dreamlike mental activity represent? The authors suggested that it could be the final part of a longer dream. The rest of the dream may be forgotten after waking up. Or it could be a short mental creation that is formed before or just at the time of arousal.
Learn more about parasomnias such as sleepwalking and sleep terrors. Get tips for preventing parasomnias on SleepEducation.com. Compare the common features of four parasomnias.
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