Rea­sons be­hind night ter­rors

De­cod­ing the im­pli­ca­tions of a night­time hor­ror


Night­time ter­rors are usu­ally the stuff of child­hood— as are im­prob­a­ble hor­ror sto­ries told around the camp­fire and ba­bies sud­denly wak­ing in a fright. Sleep prob­lems can ex­tend to adult life, how­ever, trig­gered by fac­tors pos­si­bly just as chill­ing—think loss or trauma, in­creased stress lev­els, or pre­scribed drugs. While some med­i­ca­tions that trig­ger night­mares are also no­to­ri­ous for al­ter­ing men­tal states (malaria medicines in­creas­ing anxiety or an­tide­pres­sants in­duc­ing lu­cid dream­ing), sleep prob­lems may also in­di­cate a need to ex­am­ine habits in our wak­ing life.

Hal­lu­ci­na­tions and sleep paral­y­sis

Of­ten linked with nar­colepsy, sleep paral­y­sis in­volves wak­ing up en­tirely im­mo­bile, or for chronic suf­fer­ers thrown into the limbo be­tween sleep­ing and wak­ing, it con­jures omi­nous visual and au­di­tory hal­lu­ci­na­tions.

While an­cient lore would re­late it to the nightly vis­its of the in­cubus, Sydney-based sleep physi­cian Dr. Dev Ban­er­jee states, “The main [so­lu­tion is sim­ply] to avoid sleep de­pri­va­tion, or an er­ratic sleep sched­ule.”

The prob­lem oc­curs when the nor­mal mus­cu­lar paral­y­sis of the REM state ex­tends be­yond sleep. Plagu­ing those with ir­reg­u­lar sleep­ing pat­terns, sleep paral­y­sis is symp­to­matic of younger adults’ er­ratic life­styles: worka­holics up un­til 4 a.m., yup­pies shift­ing ca­reers and tak­ing on night shifts, and high­rolling trav­el­ers con­sis­tently un­der­go­ing jet lag.

Sun­day night in­som­nia

Ac­cord­ing to a study com­mis­sioned by Trav­elodge, 60 per­cent of the peo­ple sur­veyed have their worst night’s sleep on Sun­day, and 3,500 call in sick on Mon­day be­cause of a bad night’s sleep. Sun­day night in­som­nia was coined as a sleep prob­lem caused by a life­style plagued with work-re­lated stress and anxiety, wor­ry­ing over work not done over the week­end or, as another study sug­gests, 10 per­cent of Sun­day night in­som­nia cases also arise from wor­ry­ing about the next day’s com­mute.

Like psy­chophys­i­o­log­i­cal in­som­nia, it may also oc­cur when, iron­i­cally, fret­ting over not be­ing able to sleep is in it­self pre­vent­ing you from sleep­ing. Physi­cians rec­om­mend fol­low­ing a fit­ness rou­tine or en­gag­ing in aer­o­bic ex­er­cise to make the body feel re-en­er­gized and to al­low the mind to make way for pleas­ant dreams.

Lu­cid night­mares

Stud­ies have long hinted at cof­fee be­ing the main cul­prit, be­ing a psy­choac­tive drug con­jur­ing dreams à la David Lynch. Stud­ies show, how­ever, that stay­ing up late con­sum­ing carbo-loaded snacks also plays a part in how we re­mem­ber night­mares.

Night lurk­ers eat­ing away their af­ter-hour rev­el­ries can ex­pe­ri­ence gas­troin­testi­nal prob­lems, caus­ing them to wake up in the mid­dle of the night, and re­mem­ber lu­cid dreams right af­ter they oc­cur. Ac­cord­ing to Med­i­cal Daily, con­sum­ing meals or snacks that are high in car­bo­hy­drates can in­crease brain ac­tiv­ity and body me­tab­o­lism, lead­ing the body to sweat as heat is gen­er­ated, which in turn causes the sleep to be­come frag­mented.

While science can ex­plain away the cor­re­la­tion be­tween bad life­style habits and un­pleas­ant dreams, we can also con­sider night­mares as cau­tion­ary tales from an imag­ined sand­man.

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