> Sleep trauma is a common problem in youths that is usually outgrown. But what really causes those night time nasties?
At some point in their lives, most people have been known to sleep talk. I, for one, have been known to wake myself up with occasional outburst!
Back when I was six or seven years old, my sister and I decided that we temporarily liked each other and decided to share a room. It wasn’t until a week or two later that we’d regressed back to our usual pattern of yelling and fighting, but this time she was a heck of a lot more brutal. It turns out that I’d been talking in my sleep and revealing all of my deepest and darkest secrets, which she thought would be hilarious to use against me! Not quite so impressed, I moved out soon after.
But sleep talking is just a small part of what is medically known as sleep traumas. Some people go on to experience different levels of sleep trauma; from the innocent and common snore, to a rather more dangerous version of walking, or the even more risqué affliction of having sexomnia – the act of performing sexual acts while still asleep! (A good excuse for all you randy freshers out there, perhaps?) It all sounds quite funny and definitely makes for a good story, but sleep traumas aren’t called traumas for nothing. They scare the bejesus out of you!
In December last year I had reached the familiar stage of typical student life where I’d run out of money. My little trick was, instead of living like a hermit and never going out, I’d resort to going on nights out in my car and just not drinking. It was on one of those nights that I had my first ever encounter with sleep walking.
After being chucked out of Thekla at closing time, I’d arrived home at around 3am and was so pooped that I didn’t bother getting changed before bed. I just cleaned my teeth and collapsed in a heap. The next morning I woke up with a sore arm. Strange, I thought, until I looked down and found that I’d been lying on a phone. But it wasn’t my phone, but a Samsung I’ve never seen before! And whilst moving around the bed looking for more stray items, I realised my bra was missing! Not only that, but I then looked down to discover that somehow, my top had turned inside out! Very odd…
I went into the living room where my housemate greeted me with a particularly evil look. Seeing as she is the happiest person I’ve ever met, I asked her what was up.
“You!” She told me. “You were sooooo bloody loud last night! You were banging around for about an hour at 5am. How drunk did you get? Where’s your car?”
As far as I knew, I’d gone to bed at 3am and hadn’t budged all night!
That afternoon my other housemate confronted me, accusing me of going into her room and messing it up while she’d been at work. Again I protested and insisted that I’d been in bed by 3am and was stone cold sober.
It wasn’t until she came back into the living room with my bra in her hand, exclaiming that her spare phone was missing from her chest of drawers. The drawers of which had been removed and placed around the room with her clothes thrown all over the place.
For most sleepwalkers, they’re found hovering in doorways or walking slowly around the house, arms outstretched and unable to talk. Kind of like a zombie. Instead, we figured that I’d reached a whole new level of sleep walking where I’d walked around, wandering from room to room, slamming doors (which explained the loud bangs) and into Chantal’s room where I’d proceeded to attempt to get changed (in the process of which I had removed my bra and top, removed the drawers, laid them our on the floor to find something to wear, decided there was nothing suitable and so gotten dressed again, leaving the room a complete state!)
A doctor later told me that a cause of sleepwalking is due to the subconscious failing to switch off. Maybe my subconscious knew that I hadn’t changed into my PJ’s and decided to do something about it? As for the phone, I have no idea. But it was in fact Chantal’s spare!
Two months later I was on a ski holiday with my family where my sleepwalking escapades totaled up to three nights on the trot. My antics consisted of moving furniture, talking to my mum for a good 10-15 minutes and convincing her that I was awake (twice), talking to my friends with a gormless look on my face (but still making sense), made beds, tidied and even had a shower.
Every morning at breakfast we’d have a good laugh at me. That was until the third night where I had woken up in the shower. Yup. I’d stripped off, climbed into the bath, turned the shower on, lathered myself up and ta-da! I’d woken up, not knowing where I was, sending myself into a panic attack, resulting in my mum comforting me for an hour before I was able to calm down and eventually fall asleep. Funny, that at 22-years-old, you’re never too old to need your mum!
The holiday sleepwalking really scared me and because of it I found myself afraid of going to sleep in case it happened again. I was getting behind on work because I was so tired and couldn’t concentrate. I ended up having to go to the doctors who informed me that I had reached the highest levels of sleep walking and that it was a very dangerous stage. I was referred to a sleep clinic at Frenchay Hospital, where the specialist told me that it was actually my own fault!
Sleep traumas, specifically sleep walking, are caused by over tiredness, anxiety and are heightened by alcohol or drugs. He put it down to my irregular hours at work (where I often didn’t finish until 6am), combined with pulling all-nighters in the library, suffering with insomnia, stress and anxiety and the loss of a family member. With all this happening within a couple of months – I’d completely worn myself out. I was sentenced to bed at 11pm, plenty of sleep and cutting down on alcohol.
Looking back on my antics, a pattern had started to emerge. I seemed to like changing clothes, talking to people and was literally capable of just about anything. Did I mention that I was caught in the act trying to leave the house to go for a drive? Dangerous or what?! I was in serious danger of waking up naked, outside and chatting to some stranger! Not my idea of fun!
Needless to say, I followed the doctors’ advice and within a month, had developed the sleeping pattern of a lazy teenager with my sleepwalking limiting itself to throwing my shoes around my room. To this day, I haven’t done it since – touch wood!
The start of university can be a daunting, yet exciting prospect for anyone. Freshers is can be a physically and financially draining time and the thought of having to do work again after a long, relaxing summer can be particularly stressful. The combination of anxiety, stress and over-tiredness may well be taking its toll on you already, as well as feeling you’ve consumed enough alcohol to see you through until the end of university.
So take a leaf out of my book and be sure to not burn the candle at both ends. Just think, that nightmare of strolling through your uni halls butt naked and sound asleep could well become a reality!