Sleep Disorders

26 January 2012

Sleep disorders: dark side

For most people a bad night’s sleep can be traced to a last late espresso, too much Internet or the neighbour’s dog barking for hours.


For most people a bad night’s sleep can be traced to a last late espresso, too much Internet or the neighbour’s dog barking for hours. But some disorders turn sleep itself into a terrifying ordeal.

Q:  Seeing things - REM sleep disorder

About an hour after I fall asleep I "wake" up and see things which I then react to. I can’t figure out if what I see is real or imagined, and I clearly remember everything the next morning. Sometimes this happens more than once in the night.

It’s mostly something that is threatening me in some way, but mainly I see someone peeping into the room through the curtains or some intricate piece of machinery rigged in the room which will swallow the bed with me in it. Sometimes I even convince my husband to go outside and look for the person peeping through the curtains!

This problem was almost non-existent while I was on Zoloft or Fluoxetine, but I recovered and now I’m not taking anything. This is happening every night and I’m exhausted in the morning. I have just asked for a script for Rivotril as that helps a great deal. What exactly could it be? I have been for an MRI to check for lesions or possible epilepsy, but the result was clean.

Expert:  This is probably not REM sleep disorder - it sounds more like hypnogogic hallucinations. It is certainly a sleep-related phenomenon. Get a sleep doctor to help you analyse it and find the best solution for the problem.

Fluoxetine suppresses the part of sleep responsible for this, which is why it works, but there are other options. One also wants to know that it is not part of some other sleep disorder which could need attention.

Q: Sleep Paralysis

I suffer from Sleep Paralysis (when your brain wakes up before your body does, I think) and it is driving me up the wall.

When I lie on my back the strangest things happen to me: I feel like I’m falling, I hear loud banging noises, and it feels as if I’m awake because I can see my whole room in the dark, but I can’t scream or move a muscle. It is really scary stuff.

I also experience the presence of an entity in my room when this happens, and it’s very real. It seemed to be on top of me the other night and it looked human (it was not my husband) as he was snoring away and I could see him out of the corner of my eye.

This has been happening, on and off, for about 12 years ago, but the experiences have gotten worse over the years. What is wrong with me and how do I fix this? I don’t want to go see a psychiatrist or be put on medication.

Expert: During the dream stage of sleep, our muscles become paralysed in order to prevent us sleepwalking, that is to say, acting out our dreams. In some people this paralysis lasts a bit longer than the period of sleep. It is very frightening, but not dangerous. On its own, this is not a problem, but it is associated, in some people, with other sleep conditions which could need treatment. If you are not getting adequate hours of sleep, that could worsen the condition.

(Joanne Hart, Health24, January 2012) 


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Ask the Expert

Sleep disorders expert

Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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