Sleep and I have never been close friends. Once in a while, we’ll have a nice visit. It’s easy, effortless and simple. But most days since I was small, I’ve been calling it up, whining and wheedling, trying to get it to give me some attention. Like a clingy acquaintance, I did all I could so that sleep and I could meet up when my head hit the pillow.
I’ve struggled with insomnia for nearly my whole life, a weird sleep schedule, sleepwalking as a child, and night terrors that still creep up on me sometimes. When I sleep, it seems like I can never get enough, and I take either sleep aid or melatonin on a daily basis. But of all my sleep issues, night terrors have to be the strangest. And a lot of people aren’t even sure what those are, let alone what it’s like to have them.
Night terrors aren’t nightmares like many people think. To me, they’re much worse. To understand night terrors, we would have to understand sleep and scientists don’t haven't really gotten there yet. The current theory on the cause of night terrors is that when the sleep cycle transitions from one stage to another in deep sleep, an okay thing for most people, it provokes intense fear and anxiety in the person. For seemingly no good reason.
In action, this can look like a variety of things. For me, it’s sitting up, screaming like some chick in a horror movie, and lying back down like nothing happened. It can be more minor than that and also worse than that. I have seen videos of people jumping out of bed and running around while screaming. These are the wonderful things that are night terrors.
And here’s the really fun part: the sufferer doesn’t even know it happened. Much like a sleepwalker, a person having a night terror is still in deep sleep, despite how it might seem. So there’s no memory the next day unless someone tells them that they had a night terror. That’s the part that gets me. Screaming without a reason and not even knowing you’re doing it. Sounds straight out of some creepy indie film.
Having terrors as a young adult is not very common. Psychology would say it means intense emotional or mental trauma, but that’s their answer for a lot of things. Most doctors aren’t sure why some people don’t grow out of it. More research on them needs to be done.
For me, they're a part of my life. They don’t happen often anymore, but when they do, they usually come in twos or threes. Luckily for me, the occurrences began to decrease when I started taking melatonin for my insomnia, something I’d heard from a friend could help with night terrors as well. I’ve figured out that they’re more likely in times of great stress (midterms and finals, am I right?) and when I've gone a few consecutive nights with less than three hours of sleep and no daytime naps. Of course, living in a dorm for two years meant that I had to tell my roommates about my night terrors, just in case they were ever awoken by screaming late at night. Currently, my housemate is a heavy sleeper, so it likely will not be as big of an issue in that sense.
Even though it isn’t a consideration in my daily life, it’s always in the back of my head when I lay down for the night. It’s not who I am, but it’s definitely a part of who I am. So I accept it like every other quirk– blood-curdling scream and all.