What It’s Like Sleeping Next To A Person Who Has Night Terrors

My name is Gary, and sometimes I am afraid to go to sleep at night. It’s not because I sleepwalk or have vivid nightmares or anxiety about dying in my sleep. It’s because my lovely wife randomly has night terrors, and they can be absolutely horrifying.

I can’t really remember when they started, but I know it wasn’t nearly as bad a few years ago when we were dating. We’d go to bed, and occasionally she would make these light whimpering sounds in her sleep. It was kind of like when you see a puppy stirring and having what you think are little puppy nightmares. It was actually kind of cute, but still, I would calmly wake her to make sure she was okay and she would tell me she was just having a bad dream.

However, the cute little bad dream whimpers kept escalating. One night, I was out in our living room finishing up some work and my wife went to bed early. I turned off all the lights but kept our bedroom door open a crack so I could just quietly come in and go to bed after I was done. I was watching TV about an hour later, and heard something strange coming from our bedroom. It wasn’t as loud as a scream or as soft as a moan, but something in between. At first I thought I was hearing things so I muted the TV, and sure enough, it was still going. I ran into our room and could see my wife lying on her back with her eyes closed, scream-moaning up at the ceiling. I climbed onto the bed and tried to gently wake her up, as I had heard that violently waking up someone who is having a night terror can make it worse (at this point in our relationship, we had both done some research on it). What happened next is that she opened her eyes — wide open — and stared at me with a scared look on her face, as if she was trying to figure out who I was and what was going on. After a couple of seconds a sense of relief came over her face and she hugged me, telling me that she was having a horrible nightmare. No shit.

This was not the last time this would happen to my wife, nor was it the scariest episode. Not even close. We got married a few months later, and a few months after that we moved into a bigger apartment. This is when the night terror hell really intensified.

My wife started having the nightmare whimpers more frequently — twice a week sometimes — to the point where I nearly got used to them. Although, you can never really get used to them, because when someone else’s night terror wakes you up, you get hit with your own flurry of anxiety, fear and adrenaline until you can figure out what is happening. It got to the point where I could almost manage them, though. It’s like I adapted to sleep lightly, so if she had a nightmarish episode I could roll over and console her. Then we would both go back to sleep for the rest of the night and it would be fine.

But that’s when the gasp-screams started.

Let me explain the gasp-screams. Usually my wife’s bad dream whimpers and groans don’t wake her up. They either subside on their own or last until I wake her up and assure her that everything is okay. However, her nightmares started being so bad that she would whimper, scream and then sit straight up quickly in bed while gasping for breath. And it would all happen in a matter of seconds. There would be no time for me to gently wake her and tell her everything was okay. It’s petrifying for both of us. Then, on a night that will live in infamy, my wife’s worst night terror of all time happened and haunts me to this day.

It was the middle of the night, which is already a little odd because usually her terrors happen within the first hour or so after falling asleep. We keep our bedroom very dark, with just a little moonlight peeking in sometimes. All of a sudden, I woke up to the sound of my wife screaming. She was sitting straight up in bed. I made the mistake of grabbing her shoulder in an attempt to comfort her, and this time she LEAPT out of bed like I have never seen before. She was now standing a couple feet away from the foot of the bed, and I could tell that she was staring in my direction, still screaming. It was frightening and I didn’t know what to do, so I began shouting her name over and over again, desperately trying to get her to realize that everything was okay, but she was terrified and inconsolable. I was still sitting in the bed because I feared if I moved toward her it would freak her out even more. Finally, after what felt like a full minute of her screaming and me pleading for her to stop, she snapped out of it and began crying. She slowly came over to the bed to hug me, and I asked her what the hell happened.

My wife explained that she was having a nightmare that a demon was on top of her in bed. So when she awoke, that is why she quickly jumped out and ran a few steps away. Even though she was up, she was only partially awake and still having the nightmare. When she looked back at where me, she was still seeing some sort of demonic figure. Yes, my wife mistook me for an evil being, and I’m not sure if I’ve fully recovered from that to this day.

Thankfully, that was the last time she suffered such a traumatic night terror, but the “mini” ones have not stopped. They are much less frequent, though. In telling the story to friends and family, we discovered that her father has them sometimes, too. Also, there seem to be triggers that make sense. For instance, if we watch a scary movie or even a thriller/mystery type show, it’s not a surprise if she has a sleep whimpering occurrence that night. Recently, she simply saw the trailer for “Lights Out” on TV, and that night I had to wake up to comfort her back to sleep after a nightmare. This one didn’t even phase me, though, and I barely remembered it in the morning (she didn’t recall it at all, which is common).

So, what is it like sleeping next to a person who has night terrors? Ultimately, it can be unsettling, especially at first. But, like all strange things, you eventually get used to it. Sure, in the back of my mind I am slightly afraid that my wife is going to mistake me for a demon again and try to murder me, but I know she is not the murdering type. As long as she just keeps whimpering and cringing in fear until I come along to save the day, I think everything is going to be alllllllright.

But maybe we should talk to a doctor, just to be safe.

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