People have suffered from sleep disorders for as long as we can tell, even if they didn’t all understand them. What we have scientific explanations for now were once thought to be the work of witches, demons, curses, and monsters. If you suffer from any of these issues, you might feel that it’s hard to blame them. When what’s supposed to be a peaceful experience turns terrifying, who ya gonna call? Make sure to ring your doctor, not a supernatural expert! There are things you can do to turn the nightmares into good dreams.
No, it’s not the walking dead you’re seeing the middle of the night, but that might be where the zombie idea came from. Sleepwalking, or somnambulism, is a sleep disorder that originates during deep sleep and results in walking or performing other complex behaviors while asleep. It’s much more common in children than adults, and is more likely to occur if a person is sleep deprived. Because a sleepwalker typically remains in deep sleep throughout the episode, he or she may be difficult to awaken and will probably not remember the sleepwalking incident.
Common symptoms of sleepwalking disorder range from simply sitting up in bed and looking around, to walking around the room or house, to leaving the house and even driving long distances. However, there have been murders committed by people who claimed to be sleepwalking – even as far back as the 14th century. So it’s not all silly antics! It’s a common misconception that a sleepwalker shouldn’t be awakened. In fact, it can be quite dangerous not to wake a sleepwalker.
How to avoid this problem? Get better sleep! Since sleepwalking is often caused by sleep deprivation, getting more rest can head off the issue. Make sure you have all the tools to do this – avoid caffeine before bedtime and set up your room and your bed for maximum comfort. Keep to a regular schedule and save 8 hours a night so you can sleep (not scroll through your phone). If you or someone in your house is sleepwalking, make sure to create a safe environment. This could mean just keeping things off the floor, but you may also have to keep doors locked and hide the car keys! If the episodes continue, get a professional opinion.
Imagine waking up and being trapped in your own body. You can’t move or speak, but are fully awake. You might feel a weight on your chest and sense or even see a hostile presence in the room with you. Talk about horror movie fuel! But these are the symptoms of sleep paralysis, something that has been experienced for centuries. People all around the world blamed the disorder on demons and creatures like night hags, which makes sense considering the hallucinations. What actually happens is that your body is in a borderline state between sleep and consciousness when you’re falling asleep or waking up. During REM (rapid eye movement) your muscles are paralyzed while your brain is awake, so you don’t have control of your body.
Sleep researches don’t have a full explanation as to what causes your body to act this way. This disorder can be more common in people with narcolepsy and can run in families, but it can also affect people suddenly with no other warning. If your sleep is disturbed suddenly, you can get into that in-between state. And again, if you aren’t rested, it puts you at greater risk. So in addition to the tips above for better sleep in general, what can you do? First, purge your bedroom of anything that might wake you up suddenly – yes, that means your mobile device! This could also be another device in your room that has an alarm, like an air purifier, or even a squeaky bed. Try to fall asleep in a comfortable position that you can stay in all night long – and in this case, experts say to try to sleep on your side because sleeping on your back has been linked to sleep paralysis.
Nightmares are bad enough, but night terrors are worse. People who suffer from this disorder feel extreme fear that results in screaming, flailing, even talking and moving around. Night terrors are different from nightmares because they aren’t actually a form of dreaming during the REM phase of sleep. You probably remember a nightmare, but wouldn’t necessarily know what happened during a night terror. Those experiencing night terrors can be unresponsive to someone trying to wake them. They can be scary, but aren’t usually cause for concern – in fact as much as 40% of children have night terrors and then grow out of them. Again, lack of sleep can be the cause, but they can also be caused by anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other problems that impact sleep, like restless leg syndrome.
As with all sleep disorders, the cure starts with better sleep. Since stress is a big factor in night terrors as well, addressing the source of that strain and leaving time to unwind before bed can help too. Like sleepwalking, it might be a good idea to remove any hazards. For severe cases, medication can help – check with your doctor.
Sleeping Beauty Syndrome (Kleine-Levine Syndrome)
Sleeping for up to 23 hours a day might seem like the prefect break from life, but it’s not as fun as it sounds. Sleeping beauty syndrome, or Kleine-Levine Syndrome, is a rare neurological disorder that actually largely impacts teenage boys, not spindle-fearing princesses. Those with this disorder can sleep between 12 to 24 hours a day waking up only to eat and use the bathroom. When they do wake up, they are confused, disoriented, lethargic, and might even experience hallucinations. Episodes can come and go, but during those times patients can’t go to work or school and have trouble caring for themselves. There’s no confirmed cause or cure for KLS, but doctors may prescribe certain medications to alleviate symptoms.
Exploding Head Syndrome
The biggest jump scare on this list, exploding head syndrome is when a sleeping person hears a very loud sound in their head just as they’re falling asleep. They could experience it as more a feeling than an actual sound – anything from a bomb going off to something falling on the floor. There’s no pain or other physical manifestation of this sensation, but can result in an elevated heart rate and even a feeling that you’re having a heart attack or stroke. Women are more likely than men to have this one, but other than the usual suspects of sleep interruption, the cause isn’t known. Other than getting better sleep, a trip to a doctor might warrant medication that can help.
You probably noticed that getting quality sleep is important! Whether that’s just putting the phone away or getting more comfortable in an adjustable bed, make your bedtime a priority and avoid these scary sleep problems.