Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Nightmares -Updated (paca)

Ever since college, almost all of my nightmares have been largely of the same form. I most frequently get them when I am just starting to fall asleep, but they can occur in the middle of the night as well.

In all of them, something bad is happening around me and I am unable to move. My mind doesn't work; I cannot speak; I cannot stand or move a muscle. Actually, some times, nothing else is happening. I am simply frozen, stuck, and that itself is the nightmare.

The version last night started with mysterious creeping things going on around the apartment, which got closer. In my dream, I frequently know it's not real, but it escalates anyway. Last night's climaxed with my noticing that someone was in the apartment. I could just see a dim light-colored shape standing not 5 feet from the bed. When I saw him, I managed to yell, "GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! NOW!" The figure started running, but then stopped when he realized I was unable to even rise from the bed. He seemed to hide in the closet, but I knew it was just a matter of time before he came out, more confident that nothing could be done. However, when I, in the dream, yelled "get out of my house," in real life I moaned something incoherent, waking N up who then touched my arm to wake me.

This happens enough that I think N is quite used to them and turns comfortably over after she has woken me, not terribly alarmed by my outburst. These sorts of dreams usually are set wherever I am in real life, though some details may not quite be right. For instance, when I woke up last night, I eventually realized that there was a chair in real life that was missing in the dream. That didn't stop me from eventually getting up, glancing in the closet, and checking B before going back to bed.

In another version a few months ago, I was not in my real life bed or apartment. Instead, I was in some sort of ornate library-type room. It ended with this disembodied hand slowly walking along my body, and I was unable to move or speak. In my dream, I knew I was asleep, and I struggled to wake myself up. But no matter what, I just couldn't. I was ready to grab the hand and slam it against the wall or punch whatever was attached to it, but I couldn't wake up enough to save myself. It feels like your head is going to burst with the effort to awake.

Like most of these, eventually I moan something out in real life in my attempts to wake myself up, and then N does the job for real. I often know when I am likely to have one. They occur when the bridge between being awake and already dreaming is very short. As soon as I close my eyes, there are images, sounds, and feelings that occur immediately. I am still basically alert, but already dreaming. It's as if there are two states of consciousness at war in these dreams. On the one hand, I am asleep and cannot control my body. On the other hand, I am awake enough that I know I cannot control my body, and therefore feel helpless.

I get one of these every few weeks.

Bunnygirl asked in the comments if I wasn't possibly having night terrors?

So I started doing research. I have heard the word, but wasn't sure what they are. And now, from reading, I can say that it really, really, really sounds like I have a form of sleep paralysis, in fact. It's characterized by being unable to move and often there is an ominous presence around. Here is a fun but frightening article on it from Science News. "Night of the Crusher" from Science News. Before you read it, know that I have nothing as severe as is described here. However, some of this is accurate for me, and this bit from some researchers on sleep paralysis seems exactly right:

"In a sleep laboratory, the Japanese team monitored the volunteers, whom they roused at various times during the night to trigger the phenomenon. The researchers found that during sleep paralysis, the brain, suddenly awake, nonetheless displays electrical responses typical of sleep characterized by rapid eye movement (REM).

Two brain systems contribute to sleep paralysis, Cheyne proposes. The most prominent one consists of inner-brain structures that monitor one's surroundings for threats and launches responses to perceived dangers. As Cheyne sees it, REM-based activation of this system, in the absence of any real threat, triggers a sense of an ominous entity lurking nearby. Other neural areas that contribute to REM-dream imagery could draw on personal and cultural knowledge to flesh out the evil presence."

However, the best site is this one from a researcher. Cheyne You can fill out a questionnaire at the beginning and about a quarter of the questions match my experience perfectly. What really convinced me though was this bit of one of Cheyne's own experiences of sleep paralysis on a page ominously called The Intruder. Quoting again:

The presence is not always immediately interpreted as something bizarre or frightening. Occasionally, the presence is thought to be someone who might plausibly be thought to be ready to hand.

'At some point in the episode, I also usually think that one of my roommates is trying to wake me up, but cannot.
I thought the presence was my roommate returning from class. '

Most of these experiences are reasonable attempts to interpret a feeling that someone or something is present in the room. Sometimes the presence may be associated with sensory experiences. During one of my own experiences, I sometimes thought my wife had come into the room, but subsequently realized that she was not there at which time the presence rapidly turned into a sinister presence. In this case I had been making a low moaning sound in an attempt to alert her to my condition. After a few moments I heard footsteps coming up the stairs, along the hall, and into the room. I inferred was that it was my wife approaching. The footsteps appeared to stop at the side of the bed and I waited for her hand to shake my shoulder. When this did not happen I realized that she was not there and, on reflection, realized that she was not even in the house. I was then immediately filled with a sense of dread and formed a distinct awareness of a sinister presence in the room.

I'm not sure I've heard footsteps, but the rest is exactly right for me. Sometimes the presence is ominous or evil, but it just as well might be a roommate or N. The eyes-watering moment though was when he mentions making a low moaning sound to alert his wife to his paralyzed state. Last night I moaned when yelling at The Intruder, but sometimes I am deliberately moaning hoping N will hear me and wake me up. I have often moaned so that I wake myself up. It's such a weird experience when you wake yourself up. I sit there trying with all my might to just raise my hand and I can't and the tension builds until suddenly, boom!, you pop up, the hold broken, with your heart racing a million miles an hour.

One connection I made from all of this bit about "The Intruder" is to some experiences as a child. I have no memory of ever having one of these sleep experiences as a child (I do remember a few key nightmares, but those were completely different). In fact, I distinctly remember the paralysis thing starting in 1992 during my semester abroad to China, being frozen in that bed, unable to speak or move, and the terrifying sensation of it. This is one of many differences between sleep paralysis and night terrors. While night terrors are experienced by adults, they are much more common in children. It doesn't appear from my cursory glance that this is the case with sleep paralysis.

As a child, I was very much always aware of spooky presences, not when asleep so much but when awake. As an example, I remember walking alone down my street in the Boro. It was dark and quiet, but I was within sight of my own home. However, I just knew there were other people watching me, following me. Werewolves or vampires, or just some spooky something. If I did not keep control of my emotions, I could end up running down the street to get away from the spooky thing. Of course, running was the absolute worst thing you could do, because as soon as you run, your worries break loose and the Things are chasing you faster and faster.

Of course, probably all children have such frightening episodes, but I really was very susceptible to them and slept with a light until... college? Many adults like to turn a TV on or something to avoid such fears. I seem to have gotten over those largely as an adult**, but now I have the sleep paralysis things -- if I've diagnosed myself correctly.

To anyone I've scared, from reading these sites, it doesn't appear I'm all that unusual. Some 30% of people report having at least one instance of this. I might be a little less usual in having them every few weeks, but some thousands of people have filled out Cheyne's questionnaire. They also don't appear to be associated with any other particular medical or mental condition. The occurrences occur more frequently with lack of sleep and stress, and I, due to HP7 indeed went to bed at 2:30 AM and then 4:30 AM the previous two nights. But they are not necessarily caused by stress; i.e., if you aren't a person who gets them generally, stress will not start them.

Maybe I need to drop attempts at comedy and romance, and switch to "Night of the Crusher." Bruhahahahaaaaaa.

I do wonder if a sense of humor could get me out of them more, or at least make them more enjoyable. One of the articles mentioned a Cambodian woman being suffocated by three furry monsters. If I get the furry monsters ever, can I ask them to dance?

Have sweet dreams! I know I will.

At least after I pull the Crusher off my chest.

** Well, maybe not. I bet if I was walking along one of my mountain trails at night with the wind blowing, I could convince myself something is following me. I'm not sure.


bunnygirl said...

Are you sure you're not having night terrors? Sounds similar. I used to get them, and they're pretty scary.

Aggiedoone said...

Hi! Random friend of a friend popping in. I have these paralysis episodes. Almost always happens when I'm napping during the day. I usually think someone is breaking in to the house, but I'm frozen and can't do anything about it.

pacatrue said...

Welcome in, aggiedone. Yep, sounds like the same thing to me. It's that feeling of knowing something is wrong, but you can't do anything. It's different from a regular nightmare where you run away or fight or whatever when the bad thing shows up. The only good news is that there are no reported cases of this doing any harm to anyone, but it sure is distressing when they occur.

writtenwyrdd said...

I think they have medication for this, but you'd have to have a sleep study or some sort of medical test. My sleep studies were paid 90% by insurance and I still had to fork out several hundred bucks. So finding out can be COSTLY...

In my case, however, it was sleep apnea, which can kill you. In your case, it is probably not life threatening, but horribly unpleasant. I've had one or two episodes of this and they are truly awful experiences.

I know some scientists postulate that these night terrors are what have caused people to believe they had alien abduction experiences.

katze said...

I occasionally have very vivid nightmares, and sometimes the particularly vivid ones are accompanied by that same paralysis. Once I do manage to wake up from those, I usually can't sleep again that night and the night after.

On a tangent, most of my life, I had the same recurring nightmare where I would be being chased by someone intent on causing me some sort of serious harm, but I would be unable to move or could only move very, very slowly. At first, I would just eventually wake up, usually just as the Bad People were about to catch me. Eventually, though, my dream self would think "Hey! This must be a dream. And since it's a dream, I can just fly away", and then in the dream, I would push off the ground and fly away.

Then when I started law school, the nightmare changed and instead of being chased, my teeth would start to crumble and fall out of my mouth. This dream was always extremely distressing-- far more distressing than the chasing nightmares. Interestingly, since I'm not in law school anymore, I am having a new nightmare in which I am trying to accomplish something of literal life or death importance and things keep preventing me from doing it. Don't need Freud to sort that one out...

December/Stacia said...

I've had those once or twice. Really terrifying. I remember in one the room was full of red light and something lurked in the hall, but I couldn't move or scream or anything.