10 Unusual Sleep Disorders

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

The bizarre world of parasomnias

Most of us have heard of common sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea. However, there is an entire class of sleep disorders known as "parasomnias" that involve unusual behaviors, experiences, and emotions.

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‘Confusional arousals’

Do you wake up feeling confused and disoriented? Perhaps you wake and grab at your glass of water instead of the alarm clock? If so, you may be experiencing confusional arousals, which are thought to affect one in seven people. Also known as sleep drunkenness, this experience tends to occur if you're suddenly woken from a deep sleep.

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Sleepwalking is usually more disturbing when you see it happen to others, rather than when you experience it for yourself. Your bed partner may suddenly sit upright, open their eyes, look around the room, get out of bed, then wander off, apparently oblivious to their surroundings.

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Sleep terrors

Night terrors are even more disturbing to witness as they often involve yelling, screaming, and genuine fear and panic. Most people don't remember a bout of sleep terrors, but those in the same house certainly do!

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If you have a partner with this sleep disorder, you might just think they've turned into a zombie during the night. Catathrenia is characterized by the sufferer groaning as they exhale when they are asleep.

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Sleep paralysis

Possibly one of the scariest sleep disorders to experience for yourself, sleep paralysis involves waking during the night, unable to move. This sense of paralysis can also be accompanied by visions of a person or demon-like figure in your room.

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Sleep sex

Also known as sexsomnia, this sleep disorder involves engaging in sexual acts while still asleep. Sexsomniacs will typically have no memory of the acts they perform, which may be triggered by bodily contact with a bed partner.

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Sleep-related eating disorder

This sleep disorder is characterized by partial awakenings that involve binge eating, often of foods that don’t normally go together. For example, someone with sleep-related eating disorder may eat frozen food, salt sandwiches, or even buttered cigarettes.

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Exploding head syndrome

This parasomnia is a type of auditory hallucination; the sufferer imagines hearing a loud noise such as an explosion, which will wake them suddenly during the night. Curiously, the cause of exploding head syndrome isn't known, which makes the disorder even more unusual.

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Sleeping beauty syndrome

Officially known as Kleine–Levin syndrome, this extremely rare sleep disorder is characterized by feelings of excessive tiredness and excessive sleep. Sufferers will typically sleep for between 15 and 21 hours and experience unusual cravings and excessive appetite.

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Hypnic jerks

Although not a sleep disorder, hypnic jerks (also known as hypnagogic jerks or sleep twitches) involve an involuntary jerk or twitch that happens just as you're about to fall asleep. These starts are sometimes accompanied by a falling sensation and are more likely to affect those with irregular sleep schedules.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.