I always feel childish saying “sleep doctor”, like there is probably a much more accurate and scientific name for this special type of doctor. But this morning I overheard a gentleman at the sleep disorder clinic actually introduce himself as a “sleep doctor” to someone, so I feel more confident about saying it now. Anyway, this morning I had my first consultation with the sleep doctor! I first met with the nurse practitioner who brought me into an exam room and told me to sit anywhere I felt comfortable. My options were a bed, a barber style chair, and a wooden bench that was an awkwardly long distance from the other seats in the room. I sat in the barber chair and giggled because I felt like I was in 7th grade again- when it’s your first time in the room of the boy you have a crush on and you feel 1,000 types of awkward. You feel weird standing, but sitting on his bed is absolutely 100% out of the question, no way. A bed is way too intimate of a place to sit when in someone’s room for the first time, and I felt the same way about my first doctor appointment with these strangers.
The nurse asked me a series of questions and I explained my sleepwalking tendencies and symptoms to her. She asked me about 10 different times if I snore, to which I replied “no” every single time. The weird part was that she said she wasn’t concerned at all about my constant sleepwalking and sleeptalking, she said there isn’t really anything they do about those types of activities It almost felt like my appointment was about to end until she had an afterthought and asked, “okay, and your sleepwalking is never scary, right? You don’t have nightmares you act out or anything?” A bit annoyed because I had indicated that that was exactly my main concern all over my intake forms, I told her that yes, I do often have night terrors and I run screaming through the house scared that something is chasing me. Usually a 5-foot spider or an intruder breaking into my room. I reminded her that that is why I made the appointment to see them, the night terrors were getting out of control. She flipped through my papers and said “oohhhh okay, well then this is different. I’m going to go get the doctor.” I was glad, I didn’t feel like she was really listening to me or comprehending my situation.
I sat alone in the exam room-bedroom hybrid for awhile until a man came in, shook my hand, and said “oh wow, you ARE pretty! Wow!!” I laughed and said “um, thanks?” Apparently there had been an exchange between he and the nurse where he grumbled about a patient waiting on him (FYI it’s your job to see patients, sir) and she said “you’ll want to see this one, she’s very pretty!” I was flattered, but also immediately looked at the infrared camera that would be watching me during my sleep study. A man who will be watching me in my sleep telling me “wow you’re pretty” before even introducing himself was a little unsettling, but whatever. It was a compliment and not every man that tells you you’re pretty is going to break into your house, take advantage of you, and drag you to his basement where you’ll live alone and naked for the rest of your life. Chill out, Courtney.
I ultimately really liked the doctor, though. He explained everything to me in detail about what he thinks may be going on. He said that he definitely wants to do a sleep study because I am a “bit of a different case” than some. I sleepwalk a lot and I do a lot of logical things in my sleep, things that aren’t dangerous and are quite complex (telling Isaac I know I am sleepwalking and having conversations with him). The problem is the night terrors that send me screaming throughout the house. He said that could be indicative of a REM sleep disorder. But it could also be nothing. Or it could be something other than an REM behavior disorder entirely, haha. So informative, right?
He told me some stories about patients of his who have REM behavior disorders and while funny, they are also terrifying. A guy doing a sleep study last week was dreaming he was playing football and he jumped out of bed and smashed into the bedside table so hard, he fractured his face and gave himself a black eye. A guy last month was dreaming he was a dog so he jumped out of bed and ran down the hallway of the sleep clinic on all four legs. “I suddenly feel a lot more normal”, I told the doctor and nurse. He laughed and agreed that he has seen some crazy things. While I’ve never injured myself in my sleep, I fought back the urge to give him my blog’s sleep stories page and say “you want crazy? Eat your heart out!”
I feel good about doing the sleep study because I would honestly be very surprised if I have a REM disorder. My night terrors are not as violent or trauma inducing as the ones he described, but they are still out of the norm for adults. The doctor said they will be doing an EKG, EEG, and many other test while I’m sleeping to determine what could be causing my episodes. They are looking at teeth grinding, size of my airway, brain activity, possibility of seizures, restless leg syndrome, heart problems, mouth vs nose breathing, basically anything that can disturb sleep.
I did ask the doctor if it is a possibility that my episodes could just be stress or anxiety related, and he said they could be but he doesn’t get the feeling that is the case. I told him about my history with anxiety and that I used to see a counselor and he said “to be honest, the patients I see who are having night terrors and sleep episodes solely because of mental health issues are nothing like you. They come in here with their heads barely screwed on or are very, very depressed. That is not you.” While it made me feel really good, it also made me wonder if maybe a REM behavior disorder diagnosis is in my future. I told him I am happy, I don’t feel anxious, I feel really good about my life so it is weird to think that anxiety could be causing these issues. Again, he agreed that probably wasn’t the case.
So the way we left it was that I could either have a slight disorder that can be fixed with medication or it could be absolutely nothing and I’ll just have to hope my restful nights continue. I’ve been on this wonderful streak of no sleepwalking or nightmares for about a month now (which I’m pretty sure is not coincidental, I think I figured out how to stop them…that blog post coming soon!). And honestly, the medicine they use to treat REM behavior disorders is usually Klonopin, so I won’t be taking that regularly anyway. But it may be nice to have on hand for particularly rough night terror weeks.
My sleep study is in two weeks, so I’m looking forward to updating as soon as it’s over! I’m sure I’ll have plenty of quality pictures to share, ones where I am hooked up to hundreds of wires coming out of every square inch of my body.