Strange, unexplained stuff can happen while we sleep...
From sleep paralysis to seeing strangers in your room to sleep talking and feeling as though you bed is covered in bugs, some sleep phenomenons aren’t just weird, but terrifying.
Whatever your weird sleep story might be, you’re actually not alone.
These parasomnias tend to be universal. Today we’re breaking down strange sleep phenomenons so you can rest easier at night.
1. Sleep Paralysis
One of sleep’s most terrifying situations is waking up or falling asleep and being totally unable to speak or move.
It’s bad enough when this happens in a dream, but when it happens in real life you can quickly become consumed with utter panic! Some people are even convinced that a force is holding them down (aliens, witches, old hags, anyone?) or the paralysis might come with hallucinations of demons or intruders.
Fortunately, sleep paralysis (also known as “Old Hag” Syndrome) isn’t harmful, and it only happens on the brink of wakefulness and sleep – either as you fall asleep (hypnagogic or predormital) or wake up (hypnopompic) – and it’s often an indication that your body is struggling to transition through the stages of sleep properly.
A common problem with about 40% of people experiencing it, sleep paralysis can be either occasional or frequent, and it can run in families. Often confused with sleep apnea because sleep paralysis can sometimes interfere with breathing, sleep paralysis is a totally different issue marked by awareness (you are conscious) and it’s often accompanied by hallucinations, while sleep apnea is not.
2. Lucid Dreaming
About half of all people have experienced lucid dreaming at least once in their life. This occurs when you’re “aware” in the midst of a dream. Some people are even conscious enough within their dreams to manipulate them and direct what happens, which can make lucid dreaming an adventure in possibility.
The images you see in your dreams tend to be familiar because dreams are how your brain processes information and memories, and while our brains “see” in dreams much like we imagine or envision our potential futures. Because dreams are such vivid illusions, during normal sleep, we can’t tell the difference between that illusion and reality.
With lucid dreaming, we become suddenly aware that the world we’re experiencing isn’t real.
Lucid dreams can be extremely pleasant, but in lucid nightmares, your unconscious mind takes over and you lose the ability to guide the dream – which makes these types of nightmares particularly upsetting. Lucid dreaming is associated with narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that causes you to involuntarily and suddenly fall asleep, but it’s not a symptom.
Just like sleep paralysis, sleep hallucinations tend to occur in between sleep and waking and sometimes they’re paired with sleep paralysis. Sleep hallucinations are easily confused with dreaming (or ghosts!) because you’re often not sure if you’re awake or not and, while they’re mostly visual, they can also involve motion, sound, touch, taste, and smell – making them feel real.
Some people hear voices whispering in the dark, feel phantom touches on their face or body, or see strangers at the foot of their beds. Frequent sleep hallucinations together with excessive daytime sleepiness and loss of muscle control when surprised can be a symptom of narcolepsy but sometimes they can just happen because of sleep deprivation.
4. Sleep Talking
Approximately 5% of adults and half of all kids talk in their sleep. Some can carry on complete, sensical conversations while others speak in tongues, talk about random things that do not make sense or shout and laugh.
Often the centre of hilarious stories (about kids and adults), sleep talkers don’t usually remember any of what they’ve said during the night. Typically harmless and a standalone event, sleep talking isn’t usually a sign of any sleep disorder – but it can be. Both night terrors and REM Sleep behaviour disorder (RBD) can cause shouting or screaming during sleep and when sleep talking comes with sleep apnea symptoms like daytime drowsiness, waking up gasping, and nightmares, you may need treatment.
5. Night Terrors
All too often confused with nightmares, night terrors are a distinctively different parasomnia characterized by sudden waking (think leaping from your bed in a panic), gasping (rapid heart rate, trouble catching your breath), confusion (you don’t really know what’s scared you though you may have a sense of images like bugs crawling all over you or a snake hanging above your bed), intense fear, and difficulty calming down and returning to sleep (largely because you’re not awake).
Nightmares happen during REM sleep and can sometimes indicate a psychological problem, but night terrors happen in deep, non-REM sleep (usually an hour or so after falling asleep). Fairly common in children (about 40%), kids usually outgrow them, but the few adults who experience night terrors are likely getting them because of another issue – either sleep apnea, medications, stress, fever, or sleep deprivation.
Many parasomnias are a result of sleep deprivation, so it’s important to make healthy sleep a priority (check out these sleep tips).
One things for sure, sleep apnea shouldn’t be keeping you up at night. Thankfully, sleep apnea is a treatable sleep disorder so if you think you might have it, take our sleep quiz to determine your risk level.