Cases That Test Your Skills

A veteran who is suicidal while sleeping

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Mr. R, age 28, is a veteran with major depressive disorder and PTSD. One night while asleep, he puts an unloaded gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. What could be causing this behavior?



CASE Suicidal while asleep

Mr. R, age 28, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran with major depressive disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is awoken by his wife to check on their daughter approximately 30 minutes after he takes his nightly regimen of zolpidem, 10 mg, melatonin, 6 mg, and hydroxyzine, 20 mg. When Mr. R returns to the bedroom, he appears to be confused. Mr. R grabs an unloaded gun from under the mattress, puts it in his mouth, and pulls the trigger. Then Mr. R holds the gun to his head and pulls the trigger while saying that his wife and children will be better off without him. His wife takes the gun away, but he grabs another gun from his gun box and loads it. His wife convinces him to remove the ammunition; however, Mr. R gets the other unloaded gun and pulls the trigger on himself again. After his wife takes this gun away, he tries cutting himself with a pocket­knife, causing superficial cuts. Eventually, Mr. R goes back to bed. He does not remember these events in the morning.

What increased the likelihood of parasomnia in Mr. R?
a) high zolpidem dosage
b) concomitant use of other sedating agents
c) sleep deprivation
d) dehydration

The authors’ observations

Parasomnias are sleep-wake transition disorders classified by the sleep stage from which they arise, either NREM or rapid eye movement (REM). NREM parasomnias could result from incomplete awakening from NREM sleep, typically in Stage N3 (slow-wave) sleep.1 DSM-5 describes NREM parasomnias as arousal disorders in which the disturbance is not attributable to the physiological effects of substance; substance/medication-induced sleep disorder, parasomnia type, is when the disturbance can be attributed to a substance.2 The latter also can occur during REM sleep.

NREM parasomnias are characterized by abnormal behaviors during sleep with significant harm potential.3 Somnambulism or sleepwalking and sleep terrors are the 2 types of NREM parasomnias in DSM-5. Sleepwalking could involve complex behaviors, including:

  • eating
  • talking
  • cooking
  • shopping
  • driving
  • sexual activity.


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