Help me stay asleep!
December 20, 2015 9:28 PM   Subscribe

Over the last few years, I've begun experiencing sleep disturbances that are pretty unpleasant. What's going on?

Over the last few years, I've begun experiencing these sleep disturbances. They often manifest as me waking from sleep and hallucinating someone/something threatening in the room with me. Often I identify them as a burguler or attacker, occasionally it will be stranger (a few times they were aliens, when we were watching a lot of sci-if). It seems to happen 1-3 hours after going to bed, although I'm not certain. I wake up very scared, and it takes some time for me to calm down and fall back asleep.

More recently, I have been getting out of bed while still dreaming. Often it will be a dream where something is about to fall and crush me, and I'm trying to move out of the way. I frequently am awoken by my partner telling me I'm dreaming, and me being upset. I try to explain why I was out of bed (last night it was "the glass was going to fall on me!") and upon realizing I've been dreaming, get embarrassed and upset. This happens several times a week, and it is frustrating to both me and my partner, whose sleep is disrupted as well.

I guess my questions are: what might be causing this, and what are possible solutions or treatments? Possibly relevant details: I'm a year and a half into a two year grad program, which has been stressful. I tend to be an anxious person generally. Eating and exercise habits are poor, but I'd like to improve. Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you on any medications? Some can cause weird dreams, etc.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:33 PM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Your description made me think of night terrors. According to wikipedia (linked), diet, stress and lack of sleep may be factors.
posted by bunderful at 9:35 PM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well, stress is often a contributor to sleepwalking and sleep disturbances but what you are describing is a potentially fatal sleep disorder that needs attention immediately. Your neurochemicals are supposed to paralyze you when you sleep, so that you don't act out your dreams. This very important function is not working.

Please listen to Mike Birbiglia's TAL segment "Fear of Sleep", and how he put off treatment way behind the point of reasonable justification until he nearly died because he was the Hulk.

Go to a doctor. Do the annoyingly inconvenient 48-hour EEG. Do the sleep study. Listen to your doctors. Get help before you badly hurt yourself or someone else.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:39 PM on December 20, 2015 [14 favorites]

I have this kind of thing happen every time I go camping and sleep on the ground next to moving water, like rivers etc... Literally waking up thinking there is someone outside of my tent waiting to kill me, being paralyzed and not able to move. It's horrible. I didn't put two and two together for a few years and couldn't figure out why it only happened sometimes when I was camping. I obviously have no idea why it happens, only when, but now I wonder if it might be related to this kind of thing. I am in no way qualified to say that it is for sure but maybe see if there are some kind of vibrations or low sounds around you?
posted by primalux at 9:46 PM on December 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sleep study, now. I'm not a doctor, but this sounds a lot like rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, which can result in harm to you or your partner if it's not treated.
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:49 PM on December 20, 2015

Yes, see a doctor. In addition to REM sleep disorder described above (and yes to Mike Birbiglia's story), this also reminds me of Sleep Paralysis. It's often the reason for people thinking they're seeing ghosts, feeling someone sitting on their chest, or being abducted by aliens. When I get random bouts of sleep paralysis I get very anxious and wake up hallucinating smoke faces and such with my heart racing. You can definitely have a mix of sleep disorders.

Either way, you need to see a doctor, do the studies, and possibly do medication.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:03 PM on December 20, 2015

Weird as the sensation of a hostile presence in the room must be for you, it's actually a classic symptom of sleep paralysis. It's very very widely reported -- definitely not just you!

You don't mention the classic symptom of sleep paralysis, which as the name suggests, is "waking up" mentally from your sleep but being unable to move any part of your body. But what you do have, sleepwalking, is pretty much the mirror image of the same thing. Sleep paralysis happens when the muscle paralysis that keeps you from acting out your dreams remains in force even after you've regained consciousness. Sleepwalking happens when that muscle paralysis isn't kicking in correctly and you do act out your dreams.

Talk to a doctor, but in the meantime, getting more sleep and sticking to a steady sleep schedule supposedly help quite a bit with sleep paralysis, so try that. Something else that supposedly helps: don't sleep on your back. Weird, I know, but apparently it makes a difference, possibly because you're more likely to have breathing issues while asleep if you're on your back.
posted by ostro at 10:12 PM on December 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I came to say sleep paralysis as well, although as others have noted the sleepwalking component elevates it to see a doctor territory for sure.
However I had several sleep paralysis with hallucination episodes very similar to what you describe when I was taking too much melatonin and I discovered lots of other people reporting the same thing when I googled it. So if you happen to be taking melatonin maybe lay off that.
posted by grapesaresour at 10:13 PM on December 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

You should probably take everyone else's advice first, but if you have a smartphone you can try a program like Ipnos Software Relax Melodies: Sleep and Meditation. I'm sure there would be an iPhone equivalent but I don't know what it might be. What it does is pulse subliminal beats that put your brain in different states. You have to listen through headphones and you can mix it with regular relaxing sounds. YMMV but it's free to try.
posted by irisclara at 10:17 PM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have the same problem as you, although perhaps not quite as bad. For me it started in my late teens. Since then it comes and goes, but stress is definitely a trigger for me. I've done sleep studies for other reasons, but never got a diagnosis for this problem. I am used to it and it is dealable as I don't sleepwalk except vary rarely. I'll wake up realize I'm doing the dreaming thing and go back to sleep, so it is annoying but not dangerous. My partner learned to tell me everything is okay and to go back to sleep.

Definitely listen to the this American life episode mentioned above. It is entertaining and informative. Apparently there are drugs for this problem and other ways to deal with it if need be. There are doctors who specialize in this sort of thing.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 10:30 PM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Strikes me as night terrors. One of my uncles once tried to strangle his wife, during a nightmare - so I've noticed when i see stories about night terrors, and turns out it's not as uncommon as we'd all like for someone to wake up and hallucinate their partner as a hostile presence. It is associated with sleep apnea and other breathing issues, as well as with some medications - things a doctor could help you with for sure.
posted by Lady Li at 10:42 PM on December 20, 2015

I've dealt with this as long as I can remember. With sudden onset, you should bring this up to your doctor.

My strategies have been to deal with any odd shapes or shadows in the room or place I am staying. Moving or taping over power lights so they don't cast weird light, positioning my bed so basically I fell asleep looking at a blank wall.

If I am in a new place, make sure I throughly think about what each shape in the dark room is. Falling asleep with a pillow over my eyes has also helped.

Because this began suddenly, I'd see a doctor.
posted by HMSSM at 10:47 PM on December 20, 2015

I've been through this. I'm going to suggest a few things. YMMV.

First, try taking the amino acid L-Gutamine (powder is great!) before bed. That should help you stay asleep naturally. If you want to take a multivitamin for a few weeks in the am, or just a bunch of vitamin d when you remember - even better.

You're likely under a lot of stress. Maybe you don't realize it, maybe you do. The hot second you can start relaxing more (baths, vitamins, audio meditation, exercise, daily walks, yoga, whatever is your thing - DO THAT) the quicker you can start alleviating some stress. Maybe you have some things going on (procrastination, money worries, relationship issues) address those head on. Breathe. Take take deep breathes as often as you remember. There are apps for this! Download a few!

When you are stressed out, your body reacts. The sooner you can start dealing with that via exercise and some vitamins, you start counteracting the effects of stress. L-Glutamine really does help you stay asleep without all of the freaky side effects of melatonin, so definitely do that if you just do one thing and nothing else.

You can and should see a doctor + get a sleep study done.

I hesitate to mention this, but fwiw... The one time I had prolonged experience exactly as you described, I had moved into a historic apartment building that was legit haunted. Not my apartment necessarily, but the whole building was interesting. Most of those stories are for another time - ha ha - I'm pretty sure something about its geographical location had a lot to do with this phenomenon. Energy generally just kinda bounced around in there and it was a very charismatic place. If you're sensitive and streesed out, that's a factor. I don't think aliens are visiting you!! Other people's moods, the environment, etc., these all can have an effect. If your defenses are low, bam, sleep issues.

A positive change in personal circumstances cured my sleep issues. The building was still interesting. Kinda like a magnifier of sorts. Heh.

There could be a million reasons for your current experiences. Stress and vitamin deficiencies are easy to address. I didn't mean to get weird here. I wanted to say that I once lived someplace that amplified weirdness, and the result was an experience similar to the one you described. I'm sensitive. The issue resolved when I fixed me.
posted by jbenben at 11:07 PM on December 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I forgot to mention that sleeping with a nite light helped. I used those salt lamps, they have a dim light inside and throw out an amber glow. This is counter-intuitive since light effects your sleep cycle. Whatever. Having a light helped, for some reason.

Also, if you are taking regular medication, they have side effects and/or cause unintended vitamin deficiencies... Which takes me back to my original premise of takiking supplements short term + seeing a doctor.
posted by jbenben at 11:11 PM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Science of Sleep by Dr. William Dement might be a useful read. He's a Stanford physician and he is considered the father of Sleep Medicine-- he more or less invented the Sleep Lab (inasmuch as he was one of the pioneers of observing sleeping patients using EEG). His name is also somewhat eponysterical.

Re: the above mention of Mike Birbiglia, I recommend his movie adaption of that same segment of his show, "Sleepwalk With Me." It's from 3-4 years ago and it dramatizes the time he nearly died in the La Quinta in Walla Walla, Washington. The movie actually has Dr. Dement in it, by the way. "Birbigs" has REM Sleep Disorder and as a result he now sleeps after trapping himself in a sleeping bag, because otherwise he'd get up and climb things. (It's also a funny movie, because Birbiglia is a stand-up comic.)

I've been through a sleep study, myself, for sleep apnea, which I'm treating very successfully. That was a few years ago, and after a year of more frequent visitors, I still see my Sleep Doc annually. My condition is not comparable to yours, but I can tell you that fixing your sleep can really improve your wakeful hours. Good luck.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:27 PM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Look at your caffeine intake. I wake up stressed out in the middle of the night if I have any tea or soda after about noon.
posted by chaiminda at 1:09 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Both antidepressant medication and fibromyalgia has caused these sorts of symptoms in me.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:39 AM on December 21, 2015

Go to a sleep specialist. They'll probably make you do an EEG study and an overnight sleep study. While there are diet and lifestyle changes you can make that may help, there are also prescription meds that can restore sound (as in normally paralyzed, not physically active) sleep, if there's a neurological basis for your sleep disorder.
posted by zippy at 1:44 AM on December 21, 2015

I had very similar symptoms for almost ten years. I would get up at night thinking someone was in the house and get up and get dressed, I would either awake while dressing or wake in the morning with clothes on. For me it was fully cured by divorce which leads me to believe it was brought on by stress.
posted by InkaLomax at 4:16 AM on December 21, 2015

Weird as the sensation of a hostile presence in the room must be for you, it's actually a classic symptom of sleep paralysis

Yes, I get sleep paralysis very often and I experience something similar but only sometimes. Mostly I am just lying there waiting for the 'paralysis' to end but when I get that sensation of being attacked, I always know it's a sleep-related hallucination because they seem ghostly and I hear awful sounds that are not even human and only ever at that time. I just stay still waiting for it to finish. I did not think this was a treatable thing. The glass thing just sounds like a bad dream, though and unrelated but I would see a doctor now that you're getting out of bed.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 5:28 AM on December 21, 2015

Er, I forgot to mention the sort of advice that every sleep doc will give you for disturbed sleep.

Start by working on your "sleep hygiene," which means stopping caffeine for hours before bed, no food for hours before bed, and no illuminated screens for at least an hour before bed: no screen, no phone, no smartwatch, turn the backlight off your kindle and use a lamp... or just read a book.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:59 AM on December 21, 2015

I had sleep paralysis for years. My episodes only happened when I slept alone, so marriage and pets at the foot of my bed pretty much cured it.
posted by raisingsand at 7:23 AM on December 21, 2015

I have this too. I found most of my information on this website about sleep paralysis and associated hypnagogic and hypnopompic experiences , and there is an excellent section about prevention and coping. It was such a relief to find out that this was a thing - I grew up thinking I was haunted. True fact: I am the woman in the Toronto bar in this story.
posted by peagood at 7:38 AM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you're already having sleep disorders of this nature, you need to see a doctor soon.

These kinds of problems sometimes manifest in sexual ways. You don't want to have sleep-disordered sexual contact with your bed partner.
posted by yesster at 7:09 PM on December 21, 2015

Sleep sex is a recognized facet of parasomnia, which your stated symptoms appear to indicate.
posted by yesster at 7:28 PM on December 21, 2015

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