Originally, I was going to take today to instruct you on how to survive a moose attack. Up north, where these lumbering creatures outnumber us, there is a realistic fear of being found alone in the woods staring at the ugly mug of a half-ton car wreck. But also on my list was “how to survive a night terror ”, which instantly overtook the moose thing as today’s subject, because a certain someone in my family woke me up last night by launching himself out of bed, screaming fanatically, and pointing at the ceiling with a look of mental chaos in his eyes. This immediately became the frontrunner.
When C and I were in college together, I heard stories about how he’d wake up in bed screaming, and how his roommate would run for his phone to call 911. I should have known that this wasn't normal, but I managed to overlook it. What can I say - love is blind. If you’ve never experienced night terrors yourself, or have never slept in the same bed with someone who does, consider yourself lucky. I really mean it.
There are a variety of things beyond genetics that can contribute to the likelihood of a person having night terrors. For example, how sleep deprived are you? Are you stressed out? Do you take any medications?
Have you eaten a heart-stopping plate of chili nachos right before bed?
These factors trigger a chemical reaction that causes a misfire in the brain and can bring on episodes like ours last night. These occur during stage 4, or non rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep, which is defined as your first 60 minutes after drifting off. Night terrors are not nightmares, and can last from five to twenty minutes, during which the sleeper’s eyes may (and in our case do) remain OPEN. Think on this for a second.
The longer someone’s body is in non-REM sleep, the more intense the night terror will become. (Not that I’m going to stay up clocking C’s episodes, but my money’s on them being about as far out as you can possibly get before hitting REM.) Your partner may surge up in bed crying, moaning or screaming. I’ve only experienced the screaming wake-up, so those of you out there who’ve done the crying/moaning thing, leave a comment and let me know how that is. Personally, I’d give up the fear of man-eating alien soldiers crashing through my windows in exchange for a few crocodile tears any day. But please, educate me.
Maybe a little whimper is worse than I think.
Resources say that a good way to calm someone down from night terror riggor mortis is to gently ease them back into the bed using a soothing voice. I don’t know who they have to wrangle at night, but there has never been a time that C has melted into my arms and drifted sweetly back to Neverland. I practically have to go into the kitchen and come back sprinting, arms raised and belly out, like an defensive lineman tackling the quarterback. My goal during these episodes is not to comfort his dream-induced lunacy, but to slam him back into bed hard enough that he'll let me fall asleep again. Thankfully, it’s never happened twice in one night, or he'd be in the ER and I'd be explaining some questionable bruising.
My advice for those couples out there who haven’t acquired this life experience yet: buy a pair of brass knuckles and some earplugs and keep them in the bedside table. Or better yet, go with twin beds.