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Scary Sleep: Sleep Walking and other Spooky Sleep Disorders

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Few things are spookier than what goes on after dark. The lights are out, you’re tucked into your warm bed and drifting off to dreamland. Suddenly, you hear a loud bang–as if the sound came from inside your own head. You find yourself wide awake in the kitchen, wondering how you got there. Did something just move in the corner of your eye, or are you just imagining things, a remnant of the dream you were having? You make your way back to bed only to spend the night tossing and turning, unable to sleep.

There are 50-70 million adults in the United States who have a sleep disorder, and we’re counting down the top 5 spookiest of them all.

At number 5 we have the most common sleep disorder:




Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep. It can last a few days to weeks, or in chronic cases, lasting months to years. There are several types of insomnia, including primary, or idiopathic and secondary. Idiopathic insomnia is not caused by or associated with a medical condition, psychiatric problem or medication. Secondary insomnia however, is usually attributed to a medical condition such as COPD or chronic pain that is interfering with sleep (American Sleep Association, 2018).

Number 4 on our list of strange and spooky sleep disorders:


Sleep Walking

Sleepwalking — also known as somnambulism — involves getting up and walking around while in a state of sleep. More common in children than adults, sleepwalking is usually outgrown by the teen years. Isolated incidents of sleepwalking often don't signal any serious problems or require treatment. However, recurrent sleepwalking may suggest an underlying sleep disorder.

Sleepwalking occurs mostly in the early sleeping hours, usually one to two hours in. During this sleepwalking phase, some can experience regular day to day activities like they are on autopilot

  • Do routine activities, such as getting dressed, talking or eating

  • Leave the house

  • Drive a car

  • Engage in unusual behavior, such as urinating in a closet

  • Engage in sexual activity without awareness

  • Get injured, for example, by falling down the stairs or jumping out a window

  • Become violent during the period of brief confusion immediately after waking or, occasionally, during sleepwalking (Sleepwalking - Symptoms and Causes, n.d.)

While walking around when you’re fully asleep is strange, the polar opposite may be even more terrifying. Coming in at number 3:


Sleep Paralysis



Sleep paralysis occurs when a brief loss of muscle control known as an atonia occurs. Parasomnia are abnormal behaviors during sleep.During a sleep paralysis episode, a person may still feel in control but in reality their body is unable to move. An estimated 75% of sleep paralysis episodes involve hallucinations that are distinct from typical dreams (Suni, 2020).

Hallucinations during sleep paralysis fall into three categories:

  • Vestibular-motor (V-M) hallucinations, which can include feelings of movement (such as flying) or out-of-body sensations.

  • Intruder hallucinations, which involve the perception of a dangerous person or presence in the room.

  • Chest pressure hallucinations, also called incubus hallucinations, can incite a feeling of suffocation. These frequently occur along with intruder hallucinations.


And speaking of hallucinations, our number 2 spooky sleep contender causes an audible experience that may or may not be real for its victims.


Exploding Head Syndrome



Exploding head syndrome is a rare parasomnia in which affected persons awaken from sleep after hearing a loud bang, clash of cymbals or something that can be likened to an explosion. Despite its name, Exploding head syndrome is normally painless. Someone who experiences exploding head syndrome may see a flash of light along with the sound. Muscle twitching or a sudden stab of pain in the head have been reported.

The cause of exploding head syndrome is currently unknown and can occur at any age. It may occur more often when you are very tired or under stress. In many people, the episodes occur less often over a period of years.You should see a sleep doctor if these awakenings cause you great anxiety or often disrupt your sleep (Robards, 2020).

And finally, our number 1 spookiest sleep disorder of them all:

Night Terrors



Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, are episodes of intense fear, screaming, and thrashing while still asleep. This sleep disorder is often paired with sleepwalking. Like sleepwalking, night terrors are considered a parasomnia, or, an undesired occurrence during sleep. A night terror episode can last from only a few seconds to a few minutes or longer.

Night terrors affect almost 40 percent of children and a much smaller percentage of adults.

Night terrors are not the same as nightmares. When you dream and fall into a nightmare, you usually awaken and remember details from the dream. A person who has night terrors remains asleep during the episode. While children often don’t recall their night terrors, adults may remember fragments of a dream they had during an episode.

Night terrors usually occur within the first third to first half of the night of sleep, but rarely happens during a nap (Sleep Terrors (Night Terrors) - Symptoms and Causes, n.d.).

During a sleep terror episode, a person may:

  • Begin with a frightening scream or shout

  • Sit up in bed and appear frightened

  • Stare wide-eyed

  • Sweat, breathe heavily, and have a racing pulse, flushed face and dilated pupils

  • Kick and thrash

  • Be hard to awaken, and be confused if awakened

  • Be inconsolable

  • Have no or little memory of the event the next morning

  • Possibly, get out of bed and run around the house or have aggressive behavior if blocked or restrained


As with all of our spooky sleep disorders, see your healthcare provider if your night terrors become more frequent and cause an inability to function throughout the day. If you have a safety concern or injury related to night terrors or other disorders, or they begin in adulthood it may be time to visit a healthcare professional.

Campbell County Health’s Sleep Center is under the medical direction of Pulmonologist Dr. Michael S. Nolledo, It is open seven nights per week, with daytime availability for night shift workers for patient convenience. The Sleep Center is accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), and operated according to American Academy of Sleep Medicine standards. Talk to your healthcare provider about a referral to the Sleep Center, or call 307-688-2350 for more information.



American Sleep Association. (2018, December 12). Sleep Statistics - Research & Treatments | American Sleep Assoc. American Sleep Association.

Robards, K. (2020, November). Exploding Head Syndrome. Sleep Education.

Sleep terrors (night terrors) - Symptoms and causes. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic.

Sleepwalking - Symptoms and causes. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic.

Suni, E. (2020, August 6). What You Should Know about Sleep Paralysis. Sleep Foundation.
  • Category: Campbell County Medical Group Pulmonary & Sleep Medicine