I don't know about you, but for me, sleep is something of a refuge. Dreams, epic adventures, and wombish nothingness. For my bud Mike Bremner, sleep is something he succumbs to and endures. He has Night Terrors. Pavor Nocturnus has been around for thousands of years. In the dark ages, Europeans believed it was caused by succubi; in more recent times, aliens. The technical, non-made-up, disorder is called hypnagogic hallucinations. It's a form of sleep paralysis coupled with extremely vivid, and reportedly terrifying, hallucinations. The current consensus is that it's most likely a genetic disorder, passed down generation to generation, and predominantly affecting men. Just reading about it gives me the heebie-jeebies I've got a hard time comprehending what it would be like to have nightmares on a yearly, let alone nightly basis, so I called up Mike to explain.
When you're going to bed, what's the first thing that happens that tells you "Well, looks like I'm about to have another night terror"?
You can't relax as you're trying to get to sleep. Your body shuts down and your mind is still awake. The sleep-paralysis side of it, which is the first stage, is more of a creeping sensation. Once I'm in a deep state of sleep paralysis, I know it's definitely, definitely, gonna happen.
This is already freaking me out.
I start feeling pressure on my body. Sometimes it even feels like there's a snake or something wrapping around my legs, clenching my legs together. Then I see someone in a peripheral view. This is what's known in night-terror speak, as a shadow person. I never see them directly or physically interact with them.
A lot of the time I feel something going over my legs and then, almost every single time, I feel like I'm being pulled out of my bed and dragged around. I feel them clench my wrists and drag me around the floor like a vacuum. I never leave my room. Whenever I make it to the threshold of the door, I usually manage to get enough energy to try and hit the light switch. It's like a safe zone, I guess. As soon as my finger gets near it, I usually dart up out of bed. I never actually flick the switch, but that's when the reset comes. I wake up in my bed and I reach for the closest form of light, be it a phone, computer, lamp. Anything I know that I can control.
Phew. Does that mean you're in the clear?
It isn't always a guaranteed "out." Last night my night terrors looped. I woke up and grabbed the cat at the foot of my bed, and at that point in the terror I figured I was fine because I could control myself. I think that I'm actually awake and I'm not. Then, after that, I had the real waking.
Tell me about your shadow person, does it look like someone you know?
All I can really describe it as is a dark, tall figure with an average-build. The only one I've really seen full-on a couple times is, apparently, the most common night terror figure in the world. It's a seductive red head who says, "Tell me you like me." She's standing at the foot of my bed, never making any real contact, just naked and wanting some action. The odd thing is she isn't really ugly, but like the other shadow figures, you are suppose to be scared of her. The first time it happened to you, what did you think was going on?
It happened to my brother before it happened to me, only not as serious, from what I know, or as often. His was more of an out-of-body experience. He'd yell in the middle of the night that there was somebody in his room with a gun. Which would alert someone, my parents would wake up or something. I'd be completely dormant through the whole thing so I can't really say how bad it seemed. Does knowing that it's going to happen make the experience scarier?
Actually it's kind of less scary since I can comprehend what's going on. You know how when you dream you don't always know it's a dream, but at some point you do? Yeppe.
This isn't exactly like a dream because I can't control myself even though I know it's not real. But I can just wait it out. I sit there wondering when it's going to be over. And, like I said, the light-switch thing. I know every time when that happens I'm going to be OK. Did you ever think it was anything like a ghost or an alien abduction?
Before I got the grasp that it was a regular thing and I wouldn't be harmed by it or anything, I was convinced that someone was actually doing it. As if I was injected with something and that was why I was semi-asleep and couldn't move. What do you think of people who say their night terrors are alien abductions?
Feeling means nothing, you need to have some form of physical evidence. Or an eye-witness. When I have night terrors, nothing changes in my whole room except maybe the sheets are tossed around. As far as those people are concerned, I''d guess that they're not really educated enough about what's going on. Either that or it's for attention. Is there any way to prevent the terrors, like drinking or smoking weed?
Yeah, when I'm drunk it feels like my mind has slowed down and I don't really think about it. But I only really drink when I can afford it, and I'm not going to pound a bottle of vodka every night just for peace of mind. As for smoking pot, back when I was getting stoned on the reg I definitely had less experiences with the terrors. It still happened, but it not nearly as often. I think the deal is when I'm high and tired, my mind is a lot more calm, so it's easier to relax on in. Again though, I'm not going to start hitting the bong every night. Shit, I would. That sounds awful.
Eh, it's been happening for so long and it's just going to keep happening. Sure I can prevent it tonight, but I know it's going to come back.
Illustration of Mike's Night Terror by his friend Nick Hansen-Macdonald. Top image, that famous "Nightmare" painting from the 18th-century