You can probably remember the details of a childhood nightmare or two that left you in bed out of fear. Nightmares are usually vivid and difficult to forget no matter how much time passes. On the flip side, people who suffer from sleep anxiety may not have memories of those intense episodes of anxiety, screaming, hitting, and sweating that can leave bystanders breathless, and not in a good way. Dealing with these sleep disorders can mess up your sleep cycle or, in some cases, indicate a more serious sleep disorder. If you live alone, experts recommend looking out for signs of night terrors or sleepwalking so you can seek advice from your doctor on how to manage your sleep problems.
According to the American Sleep Association, sleep horror and sleepwalking are both classified as “parasomnias,” which refer to “general sleep disorders from the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep cycle and non-REM sleep cycle”. Although children are much more likely to be affected, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) reports that an estimated 2.2% of adults experience sleep horror. Additionally, according to the AASM, genetics play a huge role in determining whether or not you are likely to suffer from sleep scares. Sleep horrors are also linked to sleep deprivation, migraines, stress, certain mental illnesses, alcohol use, and even travel. Although sleep terrors are also known as night terrors, they can occur when you lie down to rest, even if you are taking an afternoon nap.
Dr. Roy Raymann, PhD, vice president of sleep science and scientific affairs at SleepScore Labs, tells Bustle that sleep horror usually occurs during the deepest stages of NREM. appear [non-rapid eye movement] Sleep or stage N3. According to the National Sleep Foundation, N3 sleep is when your body is repairing tissues and muscles, your immune system is strengthened, and you are gathering energy for the next day. According to a 2018 article published in Current Biology, sleepwalking and sleep scare often go hand in hand, and sleepwalking also occurs during the N3 sleep phase. Horrors can, of course, greatly disrupt this deep, restful sleep.
“Sleep terror episodes occur as partial awakenings during sleep when a person exhibits intense fear, fright, screaming, sweating, flushing, racing heart, and rapid breathing. The eyes are usually wide open but have a glassy appearance, ”says Dr. Lauren Goldman, MD, a physician at the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center. She adds, “During these events, a person can be disoriented, have incoherent language, and be difficult to console. Episodes can last up to 30 minutes in some cases.
Despite how severe sleep horror can be, the person suffering from this parasomnia is likely not to be aware of the event when it happens or to remember it after they wake up. Often times, it is someone in the household who experiences this terrifying-looking event first and tells their loved one what is going on. That means it can be difficult living alone to tell if you are having sleep scares.
Dr. Raymann explains that someone with sleep anxiety can find that their “bed or room is overly disturbed in the morning”. Sleep scare kicks and punches can be the culprit behind a messy bedroom (that was clean before you doze) or a broken lamp, but sleepwalking related to sleep scare is another common cause. “Someone who is sleepwalking may wake up in a different place from where they fell asleep, or someone who is sleep-eating may wake up surrounded by crumbs and husks,” says Dr. Goldman. According to a study published in 2012, around 10% of sleepwalkers participated in eating episodes.
Although Dr. Goldman and Dr. Raymann say that dawn lightheadedness is not common after a sleep terror episode, it cannot be completely ruled out. Dr. Goldman says that if parasomnias like sleep horror and sleepwalking are common, excessive daytime sleepiness may be caused by the constant sleep disorder.
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While it’s always a good idea to see your doctor if you think you may have episodes of sleep terror, they usually don’t require medical attention or treatment. As a 2012 study reported, some evidence has shown that anxiety medications, antidepressants, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help with sleep anxiety. In most cases, Dr. Raymann stated that simply practicing good sleep hygiene – maintaining a healthy sleep-wake rhythm, creating a comfortable sleeping environment, exercising, limiting your alcohol consumption, and limiting your daily sleep to 30 minutes – can keep sleep anxieties at bay. Dr. Goldman says your doctor may recommend an overnight sleep study if they think you may be at risk for obstructive sleep apnea or seizures.
If you suspect you may be suffering from sleep scares and living alone, you can track down and set up your iPhone camera to try to catch yourself in an active sleep scare or sleepwalking episode at night. Or just try to look for consistent clues – like having a messy bedroom paired with waking up in a different area of your home. Parasomnias like sleep horror can be difficult to spot when you live in your own space, but knowing what signs to look out for can help you sleep soundly in no time.
Dr. Roy Raymann, PhD, Vice President, Sleep Science and Scientific Affairs, SleepScore Labs
Dr. Lauren Goldman, MD, a physician at the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center
Arnulf, I. (2018). Sleepwalking. Current Biology, 28 (22). doi: 10.1016 / j.cub.2018.09.062
Attarian, H., & Zhu, L. (2013). Treatment options for arousal disorders: a case series. International Journal of Neuroscience, 123 (9), 623-625. doi: 10.3109 / 00207454.2013.783579
Brion, A., Flamand, M., Oudiette, D., Voillery, D., Golmard, J.-L., & Arnulf, I. (2012). Sleep-related eating disorder versus sleepwalking: a controlled study. Sleep Medicine, 13 (8), 1094-1101. doi: 10.1016 / j.sleep.2012.06.012