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Nightmares, Sleepwalking, Parasomnias

Imagine if every time you went to bed your life became a terrifying and inescapable horror film. You see visions of spiders and snakes and people crouched beside your bedside. You body shoots up into a sitting position and you moan and you're sweating and you let out a bloodcurdling scream. Your eyes are wide open but you're not even close to being awake.
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KAT CARNEY : I'm not talking about your run of the mill nightmares. I'm talking about night terrors. NARRATOR : For David Richards night terrors have been a life long problem. DAVID RICHARDS (Night Terrors Resource Center)DAVID RICHARDS (Night Terrors Resource Center) : Night terror is basically an altered type of a nightmare where your body is actually seeing something in the room or you're imagining that something is touching you. You feel spiders, snakes. Any kind of little animals and it's usually not things that you're afraid of in daytime. NARRATOR : A regular nightmare occurs in the dreaming stage of sleep. But a night terror occurs during non-REM sleep. Scientists put night terrors in a class of disorders called parasomniasclass of disorders called parasomnias where the individual gets caught between sleeping and waking. DAVID RICHARDS : I have found myself down at the bottom of a set of stairs. And I've run out of the room and stood up on the kitchen table crouched for somewhere between five and ten minutes from the time I left my bed. Usually I'm trying to escape whatever it is that I'm seeing in my night terror which can range anywhere from spiders, snakes, to people standing over me. NARRATOR : Sleep terrors are characterized by a rapid heart rate. Measuring as high as an astounding 170 beats per minute. DAVID RICHARDS : You know you're having a night terror from heart rate. It is so fast that you feel like your your heart is ready to jump out of your chest. NARRATOR : Nobody knows what causes night terrors and though regular exercise and medication can often help. For David, there's been no relief. His ordeal has been no ordinary nightmare. DAVID RICHARDS : If you see the look of terror on somebody's face when they're having a night terror whether they're awake or not, that look is there and the eyes are just the wildest eyes you've ever seen, you're not gonna get that during a regular nightmare. That's only something you're gonna see during a night terror. And it happens every single time. NARRATOR : Michael Horsman has no problem getting to sleep. He just can't stay in bed. Michael has another type of parasomnia. He is a chronic sleepwalker. Michael Horsman (young man who had chronic sleepwalker)MICHAEL HORSMAN (young man who had chronic sleepwalker) : When I was about seven or eight I would come down the stairs. Walk down my parent's hallway. Stand in the doorway and sometimes just stand there. Other times I would go in the kitchen get a drink just little things like that or I would just wake up and then have no idea how I got up. NARRATOR : Most sleepwalkers outgrow the condition by adolescence. Mike however did not. As he grew older his sleepwalking episodes only got worsesleepwalking episodes only got worse. MICHAEL HORSMAN : The episodes kind of got worse. I would just bolt downstairs, like screaming or yelling or something. At one point it got so bad where I ripped my closet door off the wall. Shattered the light bulb inside the closet and left the closet door on the floor then woke up the next morning and had no idea what happened. I'm pretty laid back. Easy going. I don't usually rip closet doors off the wall. NARRATOR : These violent outbursts were completely out of character for Mike and they were now alarming his family. MICHAEL HORSMAN : At that point he was 17 years old and he was six feet tall at that point. So he was a bit intimidating to me. MICHAEL HORSMAN : My mom actually became scared because I'm a little bigger than her. MICHAEL HORSMAN : One of the last episodes he bolted out of bed and appeared right next to me at my bed stating he didn't like snakes and I had lied to him. And he had such a look in his eye. I was afraid. I had never seen that look before. So before. Well he went back to bed and before I went back to bed I hid all the knives all the sharp knives in the kitchen because it was a different look in his eyes and we had never seen that before. NARRATOR : They took Mike to Dr. Judith Owens at the Hasbro Children's Hospital Sleep Clinic. Dr. Owens is an expert in parasomnias like sleepwalking and night terrors. Judith Owens (MD, Hasbro Children's Hospital Sleep Clinic)JUDITH OWENS (MD, Hasbro Children's Hospital Sleep Clinic) : It's almost as though the individual is caught between being in a very deep stage of sleep and going on to a lighter stage of sleep or even being awake. So the behavior is characterized by both sleeping and waking features. The brain is essentially asleep. But the individual behaves as though they're awake in some ways. NARRATOR : Dr. Owens insisted that Mike keep a sleep diary. Charting when he went to bed. When he awoke and anything that happened in between. After two weeks, this simple log helped Owens determine the cause of the sleepwalking. JUDITH OWENS : What we discovered was that he really was very sleep deprived. He was not getting enough sleep on a consistent basis. As is true with many teenagers unfortunately. And we felt that that was really probably the major contributing factor He was also drinking a huge amount of caffeinated beverages during the day as well which we thought was probably contributing to his difficulty falling asleep. NARRATOR : Sleepwalking can be triggered by fever, anxiety or in this case sleep deprivation. For Michael the treatment was simple: a caffeine boycott and a good night's sleep. The results were almost immediate. MIKE'S FATHER : We were surprised that it happened so fast. Just by him changing a few habits it's a... He stayed in bed. MICHAEL HORSMAN : Exactly. We were very relieved that he didn't have to go on any medication. That what they recommended the first time worked. NARRATOR : For Mike, his sleep is finally what it was always meant to be. Restful, plentiful and thankfully travel free.