Maybe it's happened to you. You wake up in the middle of the night and can't move your body, or you wake up and see an apparition in your doorway. Sleep is supposed to be a restorative experience, but for people who have experienced creepy or weird things while sleeping, it can be downright scary. Feeling safe and secure when your head hits the pillow is the first step toward getting a truly restful night of sleep. If you fall asleep somewhere you don't feel safe, or you go to bed anxious, sleep can feel anything but rejuvenating.
Personally, I've never slept well. Our apartment was robbed when I was six, and ever since then sleeping on the first floor makes me feel uneasy — so much so that I sleep with a hammer under my pillow. I have also been startled awake in the middle of the night by my dog barking at a shadowy figure in my bedroom doorway that disappeared as soon as I turned on the light.
Other creepy and weird things people have experienced while sleeping run the gamut from sleep eating, sleep driving, sleepwalking, talking in their sleep, and more. If you've experienced anything out of the ordinary while trying to get your Zzzs, you're not alone. Here are 12 strange things people have experienced while sleeping.
1. Sleep Paralysis
If you've ever woken up and couldn't move your body you may have experienced sleep paralysis. While, according to WebMD, some people attribute this condition with being possessed by an evil being, it's actually a sign that your body is not moving smoothly through the stages of sleep. "Sleep paralysis is a feeling of being conscious but unable to move," WebMD noted. "It occurs when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep. During these transitions, you may be unable to move or speak for a few seconds up to a few minutes."
Sleep paralysis can occur while you're falling asleep, or when you're waking up. And, while it's scary, WebMD explained that it's usually not a sign of anything serious: "There's no need to fear nighttime demons or alien abductors. If you have occasional sleep paralysis, you can take steps at home to control this disorder." Ways to mitigate sleep paralysis include getting enough sleep, not sleeping on your back, and having a relaxing bedtime routine to relieve stress.
Seeing someone stumbling around in their sleep is probably not a sign of the zombie apocalypse, and it's actually pretty common. Known medically as somnambulism, doctors are still exploring the causes behind this phenomenon, but the National Sleep Foundation noted that most sleepwalkers are likely sleep deprived.
"Sleepwalking usually involves more than just walking during sleep; it is a series of complex behaviors that are carried out while sleeping, the most obvious of which is walking," the National Sleep Foundation explained. "Symptoms of sleepwalking disorder range from simply sitting up in bed and looking around, to walking around the room or house, to leaving the house and even driving long distances."
The website Sleep Education noted that individuals who are sleepwalking "may bolt from the bed and walk or run away. They may be frantic to escape from a threat that they dreamed or imagined." If you, or someone you love is a sleepwalker, experts say that while there is no cure, practicing good sleep hygiene can help eliminate the problem.
3. Talking In Your Sleep
Sleep talking, known as somniloquy, is talking during your sleep without being aware of it. Sleep talking can involve complicated dialogues or monologues, complete gibberish, or mumbling, the National Sleep Foundation noted. This is another instance where you might think the sleep talker in your life — especially if you don't know them that well — might be a zombie or be possessed by an entity.
Both of these things are highly unlikely, and making a confession in your sleep can't be used against you. "Little is known about the content of the sleep talking: some talking makes no sense at all and some of it may relate to past events, experiences, and relationships that no longer have current relevance or emotional impact," the National Sleep Foundation noted. "Modern sleep science and the law accept that sleep talking is not a product of a conscious or rational mind and is therefore usually inadmissible in court."
If you have a chatty sleep partner, it's probably best to invest in some earplugs since there is no real treatment for this nocturnal behavior.
4. Sleep Driving
This one is creepy AF, and it's real. Sleep driving is often induced by certain prescription sleep aids that work by shutting of your conscious mind so you can go to sleep. If you don't follow the directions exactly, and you have an overactive sub-conscious mind, you could be going for drives without even knowing it. Sometimes those drives don't end well, and have even landed some people in jail. The FDA began linking bizarre sleep driving behavior to prescription sleep medications as early as 2007, according to the Washington Post.
If you take a prescription sleep aid, you can lower your risk of unconscious driving by never taking any prescription insomnia drug along with alcohol or any other sedating drug, and only taking the prescribed dosage, Dr. Russell Katz told the Post.
5. Sleep Cooking And Eating
You may know that sometimes your subconscious mind wants things your conscious mind won't allow, like crazy foods that you wouldn't normally consciously choose to eat. The same sleep meds that can prompt you to drive in your sleep can also make you think it's a great idea to whip up a meal, or bake a cake at 3 a.m. Often, the sleep chef has no memory of the incident and can't understand why the kitchen is a mess in the morning, they wake up full, or gain weight when they haven't changed their diet.
While this cooking condition can be caused by medication, it's also know as sleep-related eating disorder, according to the Huffington Post. "Sleep-related eating disorder consists of recurrent episodes of involuntary eating and drinking during arousals from sleep with problematic consequences," Dr. Brandon R. Peters wrote for HuffPo. "Eating may occur quickly, with episodes lasting less than 10 minutes. The events occur in an involuntary or out of control manner after an interval of sleep."
If you discover that you're becoming Martha Stewart in your sleep, Dr. Peters suggested that it's best to consult your doctor — especially if you're embarking on your nocturnal culinary journey without taking a sleep aid.
6. Getting Ready For Work
OK, this one has totally happened to me as both a child and an adult. Getting ready to go somewhere in your sleep can happen when you're jolted awake suddenly, and you think your alarm has gone off. You assume it's morning so you shower, get dressed, and may even go as far as starting to walk out the door before you realize that it's the middle of the night.
I did this a few times in junior high. I woke up, took a shower, and started to get dressed before I realized that I was the only one up. Only then did it occur to me to consult a clock, which revealed that it was 2 a.m. Oops. While I was aware of getting ready for school, according to Stanford Health Care this is actually a form of sleepwalking, and until I snapped out of it and realized what I was doing I was technically still asleep.
"Conditions such as fatigue, stress or anxiety, lack of sleep, illness, physiological stimuli such as a full bladder, or alcohol use are often associated with sleepwalking episodes," Stanford Health Care noted. So, the times when this happened to me I can discern that I was exhausted, but also anxious about something that was going to happen the next day.
7. Seeing Spirits And Ghosts
While some incidents of people waking up and thinking they see a ghost or spirit can be chalked up to sleep paralysis, according to Live Science, this is not what happened to me. I know this because my dog actually woke me up barking at a figure in my bedroom doorway when I lived in an old building near Hollywood that is rumored to be haunted with more than one ghost.
According to an article about paranormal experiences while sleeping, people are more likely to encounter spirits in their bedrooms for a variety of reasons. "When we are in a relaxed state, the brain changes over from beta waves, which are produced when we are alert and focused on a task at hand, to alpha waves, which are slower and more relaxed," Danielle Fagan wrote for Collective Evolution.
"Our view of our environment is softened, even blurred in the moments before we sleep, as if our outside world is fading from view. It is at this point, where we tune everything else out, that we can sometimes see shadows darting from one part of the room to another or other paranormal phenomena." So, if this has happened to you, and it can't be explained by sleep paralysis, you are not losing your mind.
8. Nightmare Deaths
While we all like to think the horror movies are just something dreamed up in Hollywood, most of them are based in some sort of real event, including the scary film A Nightmare On Elm Street. As I detailed in a story about famous and true ghost stories, the inspiration for the Wes Craven movies came from a real-life story published in the Los Angeles Times in 1987.
While this seems totally unrealistic, in some cultures there is actually a name for this. "In the Philippines, it's called bangungut, in Japan pokkuri, in Thailand something else," Dr. Robert Kirschner told the Times. "But it all roughly translates as the same thing: nightmare death."
"Since April, 1983, at least 130 Southeast Asian refugees have left this world in essentially the same way," the article stated. "They cried out in their sleep. And then they died." Before you freak out, this phenomenon is super rare, and is the Times reported that nightmare deaths are only found in certain Asian populations: Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, as well as the Philippines and Japan.
9. Free Falling
Personally, one of the scariest things that happens to me is feeling like I'm in a free fall. There is actually a name for this — myoclonus, which is an involuntary muscle jerk, according to the Mayo Clinic. These sleep jerks can make you feel like you're falling, and have been described as spasms, shakes, and shock-like.
While this jerky feeling is usually not serious, the Mayo Clinic suggests seeing a doctor if you have epilepsy, or if your symptoms become frequent and persistent as this could be a symptom of something more serious.
10. Feeling Like You Can't Breathe
This one has also happened to me, usually when I'm sleeping on my back, and it can be really freaky when you're startled awake because you feel like your throat is closing up. This can be a form of sleep apnea called obstructive sleep apnea (OK, making a mental note to ask my doctor about that), and it happens when the soft tissue in the rear of the throat collapses and closes during sleep, according to Sleep Medicine Centers. If this is also happening to you, it's a good idea to ask your doctor about it.
11. Exploding Head Syndrome
Exploding head syndrome sounds scarier than it is, and it has nothing to do with your head actually exploding. The symptoms of this sleep disorder include hearing loud noises in your sleep, according to the BBC. "There’s this sudden crescendo of noise, then a profound and jarring explosion of sound, electrical fizzing and a bright flash in my vision, like someone has lit a spotlight in front of my face," Niels Nielsen told the BBC.
Additionally, it can feel like electric currents are passing through your body. "It feels like an electric shock,” said Nielsen. "You can feel the current passing through you." Explosive head syndrome is more likely to happen in tandem with other sleep disorders, and while it sounds freaky, it's not harmful so you can rest easy knowing that you're not being electrocuted or being abducted by aliens.
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