Between horrifying hallucinations of demons and zombie-like activity, having a sleep disorder in real life can be quite scary. We’ve identified 5 sleep disorders that can rival even the scariest of movies, with thrills and chills that will leave you questioning what really goes on when you sleep.
While sleep is uneventful and pleasant for most, for others it is a time of terrifying horrors or horrifying their loved ones. Read more about the scariest sleep disorders, what causes them, and possible solutions.
Five Insomnia-Inducing Sleep Disorders
To an onlooker, sleep disorders may look scary enough, but to the person who experiences them, it can be downright terrifying. A sleep disorder can be caused by a lack of sleep, stress, disease, and fevers.
There may be a genetic predisposition to some disorders such as sleepwalking, where close family members show a significantly higher risk of experiencing the same problem.
For other sleep disorders, scientists have not yet been able to pinpoint the etiology so causes remain unknown. Here some of the more frightening “parasomnias” that people experience.
Sleepwalking is often depicted as silly or funny, but in truth somnambulism can be quite dangerous, as sleepers navigate stairs, doors and even the roads in their sleep. Imagine waking up right before you crash you car, or being accused of committing a crime you have no recollection of.
There have been numerous cases of sleepwalkers, often aided by sleep drugs, that have done everything from cooking and eating food to murdering people, all while technically asleep. Up to 19% of somnambulists have been hurt, primarily from falls.
The idea that our physical bodies may take off without our conscious mental control is quite distressing and certainly scary to consider.
With 15% of adults and even more children suffering from this sleep disorder, safeguards in sleepwalkers’ homes can be imperative. Opinions vary on waking a sleepwalker, but typically modern thought is that it’s okay, with one caveat.
They are still deeply asleep, without social skills and may display aggressive behaviour when waking. Typical recommendations include guiding them back to bed, creating a safe environment for their nocturnal walks, locking doors and hiding keys.
Sleep Paralysis often accompanies sleep hallucinations and nightmares, as if they weren’t scary enough on their own, with 75% of college students in one study experiencing both simultaneously.
People who have experienced sleep paralysis often report feeling crushed, or an evil presence in the room. The paralysis can last anywhere from a few seconds to over an hour.
A common theme is feeling like an evil presence is sitting on your chest, like you are floating, or that a dark figure is approaching you. Others panic as they think they may have had a stroke or become actually paralysed.
Many cultures have terms and names for the experience that include ghosts or demons, and some have suggested that this condition may account for tales of alien abductions and other paranormal encounters.
In folklore it is called the “old hag”, other cultures may call it names like incubus, succubus, Mare and djinn.
Some think that the condition may be a glimpse into the paranormal world or a result of witchcraft, while science tends to theorise that it results from a disconnect between autonomous systems that keep your muscles still when you sleep.
Sleep paralysis is most commonly associated with sleep deprivation, stress, back-sleeping, and jet lag.
Studies suggest about half of people will experience the sensation while waking at least once, but for about 6% of adults, sleep paralysis becomes chronic and 1/3 or more people with narcolepsy have experienced sleep paralysis as well.
Normalising sleep patterns are often a key to resolving episodic sleep paralysis, and some suggest trying to move fingers and toes to wake your muscles up in the event you find yourself paralysed by sleep (fear).
Sleep Hallucinations provide fear on par with that featured in horror movies. Voices, dark shadows, bugs, visions of ghouls and fear may grasp your mind. Hypnagogic hallucinations may occur while you are falling asleep, while hypnopompic hallucinations may occur while you are waking up.
Phantom sensations, odd objects, and people whispering in the background are all symptoms of this scary disorder. These hallucinations can make it terrifying to fall asleep, and can contribute to insomnia.
Waking to your own personal scary movie also surely is not the best way to start the day. While many people have experienced the problem a handful of times, frequent occurrences may indicate underlying issues like sleep paralysis, insomnia, or narcolepsy, and should be discussed with a doctor.
Night Terrors are similar to nightmares, but much more intense, and occur earlier in the night during non-REM sleep or during naps. While children are more likely to fall prey to night terrors, they can also occur in adults.
Their eyes are open and they often will sit straight up in bed and scream or yell, or even walk around while experiencing them. Upon waking, the person who experienced a night terror may lash out or be difficult to console for a few minutes, and may have an elevated heart rate or sweating.
Fortunately for all involved, the episodes only tend to last about 10-15 minutes and are often forgotten in the morning. Night terrors affect less than 1% of adults and 1-6% of kids, and often co-occur with sleepwalking, and in adults, with poor sleep, PTSD and anxiety disorders.
Exploding Head Syndrome
Exploding Head Syndrome isn’t as messy or fateful as it sounds, fortunately. However it can still be quite stressful and fear-inducing for those who experience it. According to reports, you will hear a loud explosion, bang, crack or other loud sound, and possibly see a flash of light, that wakes you from sleep, or startles you when drifting off. The syndrome does not represent a physical danger, but can be quite distressing and cause sleep anxiety. Some studies have indicated that people may experience Exploding Head Syndrome as a physical manifestation of stress. The condition is also related to restless leg syndrome and falling sensations.
Banishing Scary Sleep Disorders
Scary sleep disorders can wreak havoc with rest, waking sufferers and their families up during the night, as well as making it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. Although everyone suffers from occasional nightmares, finding methods to control chronic conditions are imperative for health and well-being.
If you are experiencing a sleep disorder that is affecting your life or causing you anxiety, discuss it with your doctor. Since many parasomnias are tied to poor sleep quality or a lack of sleep, maintaining good sleep hygiene can also be helpful in reducing or preventing symptoms. Some of the top sleep hygiene tips include:
- Develop and stick to a “sleep schedule” that allows you to get 7-8 hours in every night. Avoid deviating too much from your normal sleep-wake times on the weekends.
- Learn stress management techniques and practice relaxing before bed. This can include a warm bath, journaling, reading a book, yoga, or other low key activity to unwind.
- Exercise during the day for better rest at night. Studies have shown that after four months of moderate exercise, people slept up to 45 minutes longer during the night, similar to the length of time sleep aids add. It also helps diminish stress levels which have been shown to influence sleep disorders.
- Use light blocking shades to eliminate exterior light from entering the room. Granted, most people do not become werewolves from a full moon, but light can disrupt sleep quality.
- A light snack is often recommended before bed, however heavy meals should be avoided.
- No one really wants to sleep for 20 hours every day like sufferers of Sleeping Beauty Disorder, but most people wish they had a mattress comfortable enough so they could. If your mattress is more than 8 years old or causing painful pressure points, it may no longer provide the comfort and support necessary for quality sleep.
Scary sleep disorders like the ones above have been the inspiration for books, movies, and fireside tales through the ages. While it may be fun to watch a scary movie about someone who has terrifying nightmares or crippling insomnia, in real life most of us would be glad to steer clear.
Creating a safe and comfortable haven for rest and practising healthy sleep habits are important for many reasons, as sleep plays a role in many physical processes and in mental health.
While causes are complex and not entirely understood, many scary sleep disorders are linked with not getting enough rest, so it may be a smart idea to listen to the age-old advice and get a good nights’ sleep (or else… muawhahahha!).