Everyone has had that jarring, strange moment when they wake up and think, what happened last night?
For most, the answer can be traced back to an excess of wine coolers or one milligram too many of NyQuil. But for others, the mystery of where they were and what they were doing the previous night is much more serious. Read on to find out which sleep disorders make insomnia look like a walk in the park.
Night Eating Disorder
NED (or as we like to call it, snacksomnia) is a sleep disorder in which a person uncontrollably binges in the middle of the night. Similar to sleepwalking, the person will have no memory of this event and may feel confused by gradual, unexplained weight gain. If the person is in a place where food is not available, they may eat something dangerous or inedible, like coffee grounds, cleaning solutions, or cigarette butts. NED typically presents itself in young women, and people with other eating disorders are more likely to develop it. Besides feeling groggy and bloated in the morning, people with NED run the risk of hurting themselves on kitchen utensils, consuming something lethal, and developing dental problems.
Sleep-driving is the opposite of carcolepsy; instead of falling asleep after getting behind the wheel, people with sleep-driving disorder are asleep before, during, and after their joyrides. They may wake up miles from home, short on gas, or may even return home - still technically asleep - and wake up in bed, none the wiser. Part of the brain may still be shut down and dreaming, but the other half is aware enough to operate a car from muscle memory. People may even appear to be awake and hold entire conversations, albeit slightly strange ones, and have no recollection whatsoever in the morning. Many times, this dangerous form of sleepwalking has deadly consequences.
Sleep Anger and Violence
One of the most troubling forms of parasomnia is sleep violence, during which a person acts out in anger while unconscious. While rare, there have been dozens of homicide cases that have used the “sleepwalking defense”, in which the suspect was able to avoid life in prison because they were able to prove that they had a sleepwalking disorder. Some sleep-murderers were even acquitted of their crimes but were required to sleep alone in locked rooms for the rest of their lives. This terrifying condition is usually caused by multiple mental illnesses, compounded by severe stress in the person’s life - so don’t worry about your roommate who gets a little chatty in her sleep.
While these disorders may seem scary, don’t let them keep you up at night - forms of somnambulism are rare in adults, with less than 5% of the population experiencing them. If you suspect you may be sleep-walking, sleep-eating, sleep-driving, or sleep-anything, it’s always a good idea to get a sleep study. You can also prevent somnambulism by taking steps to ensure you’re getting enough sleep and managing your daily stress.
For more information, visit sleepfoundation.org.