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The 6 Scariest Sleep Disorders

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The 6 Scariest Sleep Disorders

For something most of us do every night, sleep can be a strange thing. Scientists are sure we need it, but the details remain elusive. We know about the stages of sleep, and the health benefits that a good night sleep can bring us. We also know how we feel when we don’t get enough of it. However, once our head hits the pillow, we are left with more questions than answers. Occasionally, our sleep habits scare others- and ourselves. Waking up with nightmares we just can’t shake. I mean, shiver-up-your-spine, get a nightlight unnerving. Here are the six spookiest things that happen while we sleep.

6) Somniloquy (talking in your sleep)

Somniloquy, is when a person talks in their sleep without being aware of it. It occurs more often among men than women, and more common in children than adults. What is said can vary, from unintelligible gibberish to complex conversations. Since a sleep-talker is unconscious, and thus unbound by their usual pitch or syntax, their voices and word choices may sound different than those of their waking hours. When the somniloquist is intelligible, what they say varies from  the nonsensical, to coherent recountings of past events. Sometimes, people can even induce conversations with sleep-talkers. However, anything said during sleep can’t be used in court, since it’s been ruled that things said during sleep are not said while in a conscious, rational state.

All of this is very interesting of course, until you’re a preteen at a sleepover, and suddenly whoever is next to you in the basement starts mumbling- in a completely unfamiliar voice. Or if you’re a preteen waking up at a sleepover only to hear you have full conversations in your sleep.

Creepy rating: 3/10

5) Somnambulism ( walking in your sleep)

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The formal name for sleepwalking, somnambulism has long fascinated the public mind. It was the focus of one of the first horror movies, the German The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, wherein the nefarious Dr. Caligari manipulates the sleepwalking Cesare to murder through hypnotism. In the real world, however, an estimated one to fifteen percent of the population partakes in sleepwalking. It includes more than just walking around, though. Sleepwalking covers everything from talking a stroll through the house in your sleep to undertaking complex activities.

Like with somniloquy, sleepwalking is more prevalent among children than adults, with one percent of preschoolers and two percent of school-aged children sleepwalking. The more sleep deprived a person is, the more likely they are to sleepwalk. Stress has also been linked to it, and it can be a reaction to a new medication.

Sleepwalking can be accompanied by somniloquy.  The somnambulist can be difficult to wake, and in extreme cases, can become violent towards the person trying to wake them. Children often outgrow sleepwalking. However, for persistent cases, in adolescents and adults, hypnotism has been found to be helpful in treating somnambulism. Occasionally, the hypnotism is accompanied by certain pharmaceutical drugs, like sedative-hypnotics, with a great degree of success.

Creepy Rating: 5/10

4) Recurring Nightmares

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Nightmares are bad enough,  but recurring nightmares? Not only is there something horrible waiting whenever you close your eyes, but you always end up with the feeling that you’re missing something. Nightmares happen during REM sleep, the deepest stage of sleep. Recurring nightmares are often highly vivid, and easily recalled. If the nightmares are common or so terrifying that they interfere with an adult’s ability to function, socially or occupationally, and they are not caused by anything else, like a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, then the sufferer may be diagnosed with Dream Anxiety Disorder, or more bluntly, Nightmare Disorder. Unlike with night terrors (more on those shortly), those with recurring nightmares tend to become alert almost immediately. Psychology Today reports that sixty percent of those suffering from a nightmare disorder had a major event preceding the start of their nightmares. As such, treatments often involve lessening stress and setting up coping mechanisms for whatever anxieties have arisen, as well as arranging the healthiest sleep schedule possible. It’s not quite like A Nightmare on Elm Street, where they can prescribe hypnocil to stop dreaming.

Creepy Rating: 6/10

3) Night Terrors

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Nightmares are one thing. Night Terrors are completely another. Most common in children, Night Terrors are defined by the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems as “nocturnal episodes of extreme terror and panic”. Night terrors often occur during the third stage of sleep, as the body enters the deepest portion of sleep. More worrying, night terrors are often accompanied by somnabulism and somniloquy- though it’s difficult to say if screams count as sleep talking. People experiencing night terrors often scream uncontrollably, and appear to be awake, but unresponsive. In severe cases of night terrors, the sufferer may struggle, or attempt to escape the room they are in, risking bodily injury.

Parents recount stories of their children screaming at the top of their lungs, staring open-eyed at a corner of their room, or trying to escape the room, only to wake up and with next to no memory of what they were dreaming about. Episodes can last up to twenty minutes, and are especially distressing for parents, since children are often impossible to comfort while undergoing a night terror.

After waking fully from a night terror, the sufferer is often disoriented and if they remember any of their night terror, it’s generally fragmented images.

Thankfully, most of the people who suffer night-terrors outgrow them, so the only treatment necessary is comforting those who suffer from them. MedlinePlus, which is run by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, reports that reducing stress has also had an effect on reducing night terrors, and that in extreme cases benzodiazepine medications, taken at night, has also worked (but also report that medication is an extreme, rarely taken step).

Creepy Rating: 8/10

2) Sleep Paralysis

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Sleep Paralysis takes place either in the hypnopompic (state transitioning from sleep to wakefulness) or hypnagogic (state transition from wakefulness to sleep) states, when the sufferer becomes aware and are unable to move or speak. The University of Waterloo states that somewhere between 25 to 30 percent of the population has experienced a form of sleep paralysis, and of that group, up to 30% have had multiple experiences of it. Studies show that sleep paralysis is most likely to be first experienced in the late teens.

And if the sensation of being unable to move or speak just after waking up wasn’t scary enough? It’s often accompanied by hallucinations. There are two particular hallucinations that those who experience sleep paralysis report, and they can be experienced in concert with each other. One is the sense that there is a sentient presence in the room with them. Reports range from this being a simple monitoring presence to, more often, a hostile one. The other very common hallucination experienced in sleep paralysis is a sense of strong pressure on the chest or back, as though there is something sitting on it. Sometimes this has been accompanied by a strangling sensation. Unsurprisingly, sleep paralysis is usually accompanied by a pervasive sense of dread. Other sensations include out-of-body experiences, tactile, auditory or visual hallucinations or floating sensations. Also unsurprisingly, those experiencing sleep paralysis report anxiety after the episodes.

Sleep paralysis, as terrifying as it is, is not believed to have any long term negative health effects. However, avoiding it is recommended because who’d want to experience this? Reducing stress and sleeping on one’s side are both found to help reduce the chance of sleep paralysis.

creepy rating 9/10

1) Sudden Unexplained Death Syndrome

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While the title’s scary enough, this entry refers to a specific syndrome that gained widespread western attention in the 1980s. While the syndrome was already known in Southeast Asia, under a variety of names, it came to the forefront of attention in the US after the deaths of at least eighteen Hmong refugees from 1978 to 1981. They died in their sleep, after a period of time experiencing horrific nightmares and avoiding sleep for as long as possible. Medical circles called the illness ‘Nightmare Death Syndrome’, before it was folded into the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems as ‘Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome’, which, when it occurs during sleep can be called Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome.

Those who suffered it were all, apparently healthy, with no previous symptoms to explain why their hearts had stopped in the night. A later study, done on eighteen victims of SUNDS was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and found that all of their hearts were slightly enlarged. Alongside this, most of the hearts showed defects in the fibers that carried electronic impulses from the brain to the heart.

Similar sudden deaths were found in Laotian-Hmong refugees in Thailand’s Ban Vinai refugee camp. This confluence lends credence to the theory linking stress to the deaths. Dr. Robert Kirschner, a Cook county medical examiner, shared the theory in a 1987 LA Times article, explaining that in most of the cases he’d seen, the SUNDS victims had died within two years of immigrating.

Creepy Rating: 10/10

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