My first time sleepwalking was at the age of 7. It was my first sleepover and I walked out of my friend’s room and down the dark hallway to her parent’s bedroom. I opened the door, shimmied up onto the bed, and crawled between her parents where I made myself comfortable. I have a vague memory of her dad awkwardly walking me back to his daughter’s room and telling me to “stay” like a little lost puppy or something. Since then, I have spent hundreds of nights wandering around my house, friends houses, walk in closets, and hotel rooms in my sleep.
Today, I took a step towards a possible solution to my exhausting sleepwalking habits. I made an appointment to see a sleep specialist! It’s time. Actually, it was time a long time ago. But before, my sleepwalking wasn’t a horrible disruption in my life, I still found it amusing enough to brush off. And I still do find it amusing and fascinating, but I’m exhausted.
Today I just broke down and cried because I was so tired. I know that crying from exhaustion is not terribly uncommon (those with children, college students, people with multiple jobs), but I have no reason to be this tired. If I was still working two jobs and waking up at 5am to go to the gym and doing college classes, then yes I’d understand. But I do nothing. I can’t do anything because I can barely get dressed in the morning due to the exhaustion from running around all night long. It’s frustrating because I am happy, I’m not depressed, I love my life, I truly enjoy my job and look forward to work. Things are great, except I wake up sometimes 5 times a night screaming because a giant spider, a rabid bat, or an angry mongoose is trying to kill me.
I cried again when I got onto the sleep doctor’s website and read about the sleep disorders they are looking to rule out during a sleep study. I know that the things I deal with are not unique to me, thousands upon thousands of people deal with them, but it can be hard to remember that. When I’m laying awake and alone at 3am, my heart feeling like it is going to explode out of my chest because of another night terror, it feels really lonely. It feels like there is something wrong with me, and nobody really understands. After all, I’ve never met anybody else who has these types of vivid dreams and sleepwalking/talking episodes an average of 5 nights per week.
To be honest, the sleep disorder that sounds most similar to my episodes is narcolepsy. Did you know that not everyone with narcolepsy falls asleep at random times during the day as cartoons and movies so often depict? I had no idea. The symptom that had me jaw dropping was the description of hypnagogic hallucinations. I had never heard of them before, but they are without a doubt 100% what I experience during one of my more violent episodes.
According to the website Wise Geek:
Visual, auditory, tactile, and kinetic sensations can all be experienced during hypnagogic hallucinations, and everyone experiences slightly different forms. Some people, for example, may feel like they are falling, and jerk themselves awake to avoid hitting the ground. Others may hear voices as they are trying to drift off to sleep, or experience a vivid sensation that someone or something is in the room (read IT EFFING SUCKS. REMEMBER MY DEMONS OR SLEEPWALKING POST?! IT’S ALL MAKING SENSE NOW!). Sensory experiences such as feeling like one is submerged in a pool of water are also not uncommon.
In some cases, hypnagogic hallucinations can be frightening for the people who experience them. They may include vivid and frightening images, including images which are out of scale, which can make the hallucinations seem even more unsettling; people may see giant spiders on the walls (OMG YES! YES!!!!), for example, or feel like they have shrunk down to a tiny size in the bed. The vivid experiences may also be brought to mind over the course of the day, causing inexplicable images or sensations to filter through someone’s consciousness at an unexpected moment.
That description is my life between 1 and 7 nights per week. Sounds fun, right? You can pretty safely assume that in addition to feeling thrilled because there may be an end in sight to my sleepwalking, my anxiety is a little off the charts with thoughts like “what if I have schizophrenia?” or “do I have multiple personality disorder and this is the early stages?!” I know I’m being dramatic and overly anxious (shocking), I just hate the unknown.
I’m not trying to self diagnose and I’m definitely not suggesting that I have narcolepsy, but it feels reassuring to know that what I’m dealing with is not uncommon no matter what it is. Hopefully in a few weeks we will have some answers and my husband and I can sleep through the night. I honestly can’t remember the last time I did. And I’m so, so tired.