Sleep has always been really intense for me. I’m prone to insomnia, night terrors, and lucid dreaming.
Night terrors, at least as I experience them, involve dreaming with my eyes open. I can see and hear the world around me, but my nightmares are superimposed on top of reality. This would be horrifying enough, but the worst part about it is that when you’re asleep your body releases a chemical that paralyzes you so you can’t act out what you’re dreaming. I’ve experienced few things in life as horrifying as sending desperate signals to my brain to flee from the nightmares swirling around me in my bed and being completely unable to move.
My reaction is always to thrash inside my mind, desperately trying to move my limbs and cry out for help. I can never move, but occasionally am able to call out for help, sometimes only as a faint mumble. Eventually the desperate fighting does seem to wake me up fully, but it’s common for me to fall right back into another night terror.
One of my first memories is of a night terror that occurred when I fell asleep on the living room couch when I was around 3 years old. My eyes opened and my mom asked if I wanted to be carried upstairs to my bed. I thrashed desperately in my mind and screamed because a giant red ball at the top of the stairs was waiting to crush me if I was taken up there. That’s the absurd fear of a three year old and most people grow out of night terrors, but I never did. As I got older, the terrors changed to demonic monsters looming in the air above me and eventually to real world nightmares of murderers and rapists sitting at the edge of my bed.
I developed insomnia in middle school. On a good night it would take me about an hour and a half to fall asleep. When my insomnia acted up it was more like 5 hours. It wasn’t all bad, though. I also became very interested in the imagery of my dreams. I started keeping a dream journal and that focus caused the memories of my dreams to become more and more vivid until it started taking me too long to write all the details down so I stopped.
In my 20s I learned about lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming is when you’re aware that you’re in a dream and therefore are able to start controlling parts of it. It’s like having magic powers or realizing you’re in the Matrix. My previous attention to my dreams allowed me to start having them occasionally.
Lucid dreams only seem to happen when I’m in a thin sleep, close to waking up. It’s a state of sleep very similar to the state that causes night terrors and I’m convinced that if I could just keep from freaking out, it would be possible to turn the night terrors into lucid dreams. They both involve parts of the brain being asleep and other parts being awake.
Every time I lucid dream, I decide to start flying. Apparently that’s all I’ve really ever wanted to do. It’s fantastically fun, but the more excited I get in a lucid dream, the quicker I wake up. It’s like a positive version of the mental thrashing during night terrors. Also, like night terrors, once I wake up it’s easy to fall back into another one.
Eventually all the insomnia became too much for me and I started medicating myself to sleep. The medicine wasn’t perfect and I still found myself dreading sleep so I started falling asleep to the same set of podcasts over and over. The more I listened to them, the less I wanted to stay up to hear them and the words managed to make it hard for my brain to keep me up with distracting or anxious thoughts of its own.
The combination of sedatives and distraction worked great and reduced my insomnia to an occasional occurrence. Unfortunately this came with the almost complete blotting out of my dreams or at least my memories of them. No more night terrors, but no more beautiful imagery or magical lucid dreaming either. I needed this to help me
I’ve decided I want my dreams back so I’m going to try to sleep unaided more often. I’m afraid the insomnia and night terrors will return, but last Saturday I fell asleep in unaltered silence and I flew.