Sleep is far from the simply ‘lights out’ cliché that has been portrayed as. The more we learn about it the more we have come to understand that it is an incredibly complex and highly varied process... and that is just when it is all going to plan. As with any complex process, it can and does go wrong quite often. Here is some of the most intense ways that your sleep can be all messed up.
Let’s start with the most common, nightmares. Most people will suffer from nightmares at some point in their life. Many people will wake from a nightmare with an elevated heart rate and an ongoing fear. In fact, one of the widest definitions of a nightmare is a negative dream that includes waking up during or immediately after. In other words, it is not a nightmare unless you wake. While singular nightmares are bad enough many people suffer from recurring nightmares, if these persist they can end up causing or worsening insomnia.
What is worse than nightmares when you are asleep? Waking nightmares! Yes, you can have waking nightmares. You wake up and you have a strange sensation, then you see a shadow moving across your room. You go to move but cannot, then the shadow comes closer, you hear its breath and feel it. You have just suffered from the combination of sleep paralysis and hallucinations that is known as a waking nightmare. The body is normally paralysed during sleep to prevent injury, and when we wake this paralysis ends, but with waking nightmares you wake and are still paralysed. This horrible phenomena is often pinpointed as the origin of many folk myths and alien abduction stories.
Loss of Control
While the waking nightmare involves waking and still being paralysed, the opposite can happen as well. Yes, with a range of sleep disorders including sleep apnea and REM sleep behaviour disorder sufferers have been found to act out their dreams while they sleep, causing them to thrash around, often hurting themselves and anyone they are in bed with. While this may seem the same sleepwalking, it appears that these are two related but not identical conditions.
Just as you are falling asleep you suddenly seem to start falling down toward the ground only to be jerked awake before you hit. This is called a hypnic jerk and is very common. No one knows why it happens, though some think it is connected to our early ancestors who slept in trees and faced the real danger of falling.
You wake up to find yourself in the hallway, in someone else’s room or, at its worst, in your car or out on the street. You have no idea how you got there. You have been sleepwalking. This has to be one of the scariest sleep phenomena. Mild sleepwalking is bad enough but some people have committed violent crimes whilst sleepwalking. Sleepwalking is seen as a sleep disorder but its causes, aside from possibly being exacerbated by sleeping pills, are unknown.
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