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Bump In The Night - "I'm never surprised when I awake to find bruises or blood"

by Dana
(Stuart, Florida)

I'm 28 and I've had REM Sleep Behavior Disorder since I was a child. I only today realized what the official diagnosis was. Everyone always called it "night terrors" but I knew that wasn't what it was, no matter how much they insisted. It happens to me virtually every night. Most of the time, it's perfectly benign, aside from waking up the next morning feeling tired: I walk around, turn on lights, etc. Basically, I'm always dreaming that I'm doing something purposeful and I "act out" those dreams in the real world.

For instance, I might turn on the lights and check under the bed because I see a dog jump off my bed and scurry beneath (I have no dog). I might have a very detailed conversation in the night. I might insist to my wife that there is a thousand pill bugs rolling across the sheets. But sometimes, these "incidences" aren't so benign. Sometimes, my nightmares become "real" and I go hurtling through my house in the dead of night, slamming into furniture. If I'm lucky, I don't make it out the front door and into the street.

Every few months, I hurt myself while I dream. I've sliced open my heel, almost blinded myself, and almost fallen from a balcony on to hard tile (to name a tiny fraction). I always remember what I dream upon such occasions, so I'm never surprised when I awake to find bruises or blood covering the sheets of my bed.

The worst two incidences occurred when I was in college. The first was during a 2 week backpacking trip in the Rocky Mountains. I darted from my tent (barefoot) and sprinted across jagged rocks and nearly hurtled from a cliff side.

In the other incidence, I dreampt I was being attacked by giant leeches while I slept in my college dorm, so I sprinted from my room and ran through the dormitory hallways, shrieking and kicking the wall as I went (the leeches were attacking my feet, after all). I broke a few bones in my foot, but I'm not sure if it hurt as much as the public ensnarement. I was almost expelled from school because people thought I was taking LSD (I've never used any drugs and never drank alcohol).

Curiously, I've noticed that most people's accounts of this condition involve being completely convinced that what they are dreaming is true, but I have some small refuge of self-awareness and self-control. Maybe that's why I've never actually hurt anyone (yet). I'm a very skeptical and analytical person, so before I do something too dire or drastic in my dreams, some part of me says, "this might be a dream." For instance, I once picked up a vase from my nightstand and was ready to hurl it at my sleeping wife (she was a murderer, in my dreams). But some distant part of my consciousness cautioned me that, if I was just dreaming, I could do something terrible. It was the strangest sort of thought process: measuring whether I was dreaming or awake. Measuring whether I should take the risk of striking my wife or take the risk of being murdered by an intruder.

It's never been easy living with this peculiar disorder, but now there is the additional apprehension of hearing the news that REM Sleep Behavior Disorder might be the harbinger of neurological degeneration.

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