Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Night Terrors

Sleep terrors. I got them.

Every so often I wake up screaming, flailing my arms, sometimes falling out of bed. I have apnea, which contributes to the problem, but the terrors continue regardless of my beloved bipap machine, a device that keeps my throat from closing while I sleep.

My wife is used to this. When she hears me scream from the bedroom, if I go to sleep before she does, then she'll usually check in on me to make sure things are okay. After a minute or so of screaming, I settle back down and go to sleep without any memory of the event.

She is a patient woman, don't you think?

My ex-wife wasn't as patient, but I won't go into that. Instead I'll tell a story about her and myself and my terrors.

We were at an art cinema's screening of Akiro Kurisawa's "RAN". It's a long film, with subtitles and many slow moments artfully put together. Dream sequences almost. I sat on the end of the aisle. My exwife sat one in, sandwiched between myself and a friend Jim, who was visiting from Alaska.

We sat, we relaxed, the movie droned on...and on....and...

I burst from my seat with a high pitched scream, not just any scream, but a protracted scream of profound horror. Still shrieking, I ran up the aisle of theater, exploding into the lobby. The friend from Alaska lost his popcorn. He and everyone else in the theater. He turned to my ex, who was looking ahead as though nothing had happened, and asked: "Is he going to be okay?"

She at first pretended like she didn't know what he was talking about. Then, she shrugged and said: "He's fine."

Me? I returned a few minutes later, with a popcorn, candy, and a soda balanced in the crook of my arm, as though that had been my intent all along.

This incident sometimes haunts me when I attend live theater.

I guess I could pass it off as performance art if it happens again.


Susan Miller said...

Sounds like you won't have to go very far in your quest to rediscover fear & horror.

Performance are a wonderful performer, but I much more see you in the realm of comedy.

Claudia said...

If you had done it on purpose, it would be hysterically funny!! Night terrors, though? Terrible thing to have to endure, even if you don't remember them.

SQT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SQT said...

My brother has had night terrors his whole life. I used to hear him in the middle of the night thrashing his bedroom. He'd tear pictures off the walls, knock over furniture and yell like crazy. He once jumped through the bedroom window and my mom had take him to the emergency room because he cut an artery in his foot. Scary stuff.

I've heard from his wife that he still has them. I don't know what she does to cope with it, but they're still married, so that has to be a good sign. Right?

**&^%$# word verification. I've had to enter the damn letters 3 times the last few times I've come here before it would take my post.

Kate S said...

Wow, Stewart. Sorry to hear that. I used to get them when I was teenager and it was no fun. Fortunately, haven't had one in many, many years. (knocking on wood)

Although, I'm sorry, I had to laugh at the theater experience. It's terrible, but also funny under the circumstances. But for your sake, I hope it doesn't happen again. :) Just don't go see any Will Farrell movies... :D

Charles Gramlich said...

Makes for an interesting nocturnal experience. I have nightmares but don't wake up screaming. I think that's better. Glad your current wife understands.

avery said...

That's a crazy story. The people in the theater must have thought you were on some serious shit.

I have a tendency to sit straight up in bed and point at the ceiling and say, "Do you see that spider?" It used to freak out the spouse, but now I'm generally ignored. Probably because once the contacts are removed I can't see two feet in front of my face, let alone anything that might possibly be creeping along the ceiling.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Sue, I'm not bothered by my night terrors...I think its other people who are more alarmed. I remember in the other house in which I lived, I slept with the windows open. I can only imagine what the neighbors must have thought at three in the morning.

Claudia, again...not a problem. I think the theater experience was hilarious.

SQT, that's a horrible story. When I was in the hospital, I had my night terrors. I yanked out my IV's and almost hurt myself.

Kate, I think the dream world is a horrifying place, the Id's playground.

Charles, my current wife is a godsend.

Avery, I couldn't believe what you wrote. Dear God. There are times when I wake up and see a dark mass in the corner of the room. I've tried to point it out to my wife before. I'm sure it's something to do with the optic nerve or some such, but it still freaks me out.

Donnetta Lee said...

My little boy, as a preschooler, had night terrors before I knew what they were. It was horrible. He screamed and thrashed around in his bed. I picked him up and rocked him until he would sort of slowly settle down. But he never woke up. Scared me to death. As far as I know, he doesn't do that any more. Hubby will sometimes talk in his sleep. Usually when he's under stress. And sometimes is barking out commands, back to the times when he was a Marine in Viet Nam.

Lucas Pederson said...

I've only had a few waking up screaming nightmares. Mostly I wake up out of breath, sweaty, scared as hell.

Thank God for your current wife huh? The ex sounds like a, well...

Great post fella!

Travis said...

I guess if you don't remember them, that makes night terrors better than nightmares.

I've had nightmares off and on since I was a teenager. I'm sure that's why I'm not a huge fan of scary stories.

Fab said...

Poor Stewart. That's bad. Especially if it happens in public. But you covered it well.

A few years ago I woke up every night at 4 am with a shock, completely disorientated. I didn't scream though. Apparently it was stress related. Something about the heart rate going up while sleeping. I don't have those shocking wakeups anymore, but still wake up at 4 out of habit.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Donetta, I appreciate that you took your child's fear seriously. I remember having some horrible moments as a child and not feeling able to go and ask my parents for reassurance.

Lucas, you might have the beginning of sleep apnea. Waking up unable to breathe? What may be happening is that you're waking up because you've stopped breathing. Seriously.

Travis, I agree. I would rather wake up screaming and remember nothing than wake up and remember everything.

Fab, don't feel bad. To be honest, it's a condition I've always had and I'm used to it. I can go through long periods and never wake up screaming or thrashing around.

Clifford said...


Are you sure they're night terrors? The reason I ask is because there's a similar condition called REM Behavior Disorder where you act out your dreams. While not curable, in most cases, it can be controlled with medication. My father had a severe case of this condition.

Clifford said...


I second your hate for word verification. I have the same problem! I recently saw a piece on Microsoft Research where they've come up with a verification scheme that shows pictures of puppies and and kittens. There either all kittens and a single puppy or all puppies and a single kitten. You just click on the one that's different. It turns out computers can't discern the difference yet, but it's obviously a piece of cake for us humans. And besides, puppies and kittens are cute! Bring it on!

SQT said...


Yeah, bring on the puppies!

Lucas Pederson said...

Perhaps I'll get checked for apnea. My daughter had it when she was first born, very stressful time for us. AS for myself, I think it has a lot to do with my asthma. This is not normal asthma I'm talking about here, there's nothing wrong with my air tubes. The problem lies in my lungs. I have smaller than normal aveoli (the tiny sacks in the lungs, if you didn't know already). It sucks, to lput it bluntly, and I guess it may be one of the reasons why I wake up at night.
Anyway, there's my story...:-)

Princess Banter said...

Oh dear, I've only gone as much as read about night terrors... terrible to have. I hope both of you are okay. Have you tried seeking help to cure them?

heartinsanfrancisco said...

It sounds as if you missed your calling as a movie critic.

Sorry about the night terrors, though. I think my father must have had them. I was often awakened as a child by his yelling in a really eery voice. My mother always just shrugged it off as "nightmares," but it scared me to death.

I'm glad your wife checks on you.

avery said...

Maybe we're tuned in to some other reality, Stewart.

Or, we're just a matched set of nutcases.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Cliff..I've undergone a few sleep disorders. I have apnea...but I don't think I have the disorder you describe.

Princess Banter, there is no cure for night terrors. They come and go, I think some association with stress.

hearts, I used to be a film critic. I would kill to have that job again.

Um...I'll vote for nutcase.

DonkeyBlog said...

I guess I have all these things which you write about - the halting of breathing and the scream-inducing dreams - I've blogged about them many times

I wonder if it's someone with this condition that is drawn to horror fiction, or whether the obsession is what ignites the nocturnal visitations?