Tell Me What You Know About Night Terrors


It’s been happening almost every night since we got back from the honeymoon.  Collin’s asleep in bed, and I’m doing whatever it is I do when I’m next to sleeping Collin in bed (see generally, wasting time on the internet).  Pretty peaceful scene of marital bliss.  And then Collin will jackknife up from his pillow, screaming in terror.

Sometimes it’s more muted, a gasp and a jump and then he rolls over and goes back to sleep.

But more often than not these days, it’s a full-on night terror.  Collin in a truly creepy twilight-sleep state, hallucinating threats that range from swarms of bugs to (I swear I am not making this up) a three-apples-high Lego man come to life, rappelling down our bedroom wall.

It begins with a jolt up from slumber and a gasp or scream. I’ll try to sooth him by cooing, “It’s ok, it’s just me, you’re safe in bed.”  He never seems to hear me at first.  He’ll usually scream a few times, those pure-terror screams that instantly suck you back into the most traumatizing moments of your life.  Sometimes he’ll lash out at the perceived threat, with a thrown pillow or punch.  And then he’ll start trying to converse with me.  The exchange below is the best transcript I can manage five or ten minutes after an episode:

Collin: “Gothenemy”

Robin: “Enemy? I’m not your enemy, I’m your wife.”

Collin: “NO, get IT OFF OF ME. I don’t want it on me.”

Robin: “There’s nothing on you, sweetie. You’re having a night terror.”

Collin: “Shut up. No.”

Robin: “Yes, it’s just a night terror. It’s ok.”

Collin: “Seriously? There’s nothing on me? Really? Shit. Really?”

Robin: “Yes, really.”

Collin: “Goddamn.”

And then he rolls over and immediately goes back to sleep. And sometimes he has no memory of it the next day. [Collin is actually unusual in that he often remembers his night terrors, most people who suffer from them rarely do.]

You know what might be the creepiest thing about all of this? How used to it I am. When we first started dating, Collin’s night terrors would shake me up so much I’d lose at least an hour of sleep after every one.  Now I’m rarely even startled by Collin springing up from sleep screaming.

It’s like part of my nighttime routine.  Brush my teeth, wash my face, catch up on my Google reader, convince my semi-conscious husband his hands aren’t covered in glowing blue goo.

But even though Collin’s night terrors don’t scare me out of my skin anymore, I still hate them. I hate seeing him feel so scared.  I hate the part where he doesn’t believe me when I tell him he’s safe, especially when he gets uncharacteristically angry (Saying things like, “Stop fucking lying to me,” when I know he abhors swearing in anger when he’s awake).  And as the night terrors have become more and more of a nightly event, there’s a new part to hate: when he starts to come back to reality, Collin will often moan, “What is wrong with my brain?” but be asleep before I can answer.

But most of all, I hate knowing that Collin is this stressed out.


  1. The Lego Man is coming to avenge your decapitations, of lego of course, through Colin’s brain.

  2. It’s horrible, isn’t it? You describe it really well. I think stress is a big factor. For a while during my PhD I was waking up screaming imagining spiders coming at me – I thought I could see them even when I’d opened my eyes. However, I’d also jump out of bed and run out of the room and wouldn’t believe they weren’t real until I turned the light on. I think waking up properly helped me sleep better afterwards, maybe?

    My husband also gets this very frequently, though he doesn’t tend to hallucinate. I find he’s worse if I’m up working late in the next room. Also, apparently not lying on your back while you sleep helps. And all the usual sleep tips – no caffeine in the evening, getting enough exercise, taking time to wind down before bed. But it seems some people are just prone to this.

  3. I had no idea this happened to people. Like much of life, these descriptions are both absurdly funny and heartbreaking at the same time. Poor dude, I hope they ease up on him.

  4. I am actually going for a sleep study later this month, bc my sleepwalking has become MUCH more frequent lately. What happens to me is certainly nothing like Night Terrors (actually, I usually wind up cleaning in my sleep, so it is kind of helpful), and I can’t even imagine what Collin is going through. I thought it was wedding-stress-related but it continues even after the wedding. They think my brain doesn’t get enough oxygen when I sleep. Which makes me wonder if Collin has done a sleep study? Or at the very least seen a doctor?

  5. B used to do this! Only a few times, and he hasn’t in a long time now – no idea why it stopped. Maybe it was also stress?

    I was FREAKED out the first time it happened shortly after we started dating… I was wondering what kind of crazy person I’d gotten involved with, LOL. He would also swear and sound very… harsh, which is a tone of voice he never, ever uses with me when he’s awake. It helped once I realized he was totally asleep and had no memory of the incident when he woke up… but I’m still relieved it stopped.

    Hope Collin is able to sleep all the way through the night with any terrors someday soon. :-/

  6. I would recommend a consult with a sleep specialist (neurologist with fellowship in sleep). Likely a sleep study will be ordered.

  7. Fiancee does this. The first time she did it coincided perfectly with the first night I came to bed without make up on (because in the beginning, I did in fact wear make up to bed). She opened her eyes, looked at my unmade-up face, and let out an unholy shriek that could raise the dead.

    It was like everything they told my grandparents in their premarital counseling 50 years ago.

    Now, most of the night terrors are bug related. She jumps up on the bed screaming, I turn the light on to prove the walls aren’t crawling with spiders, and then we go back to bed. It happens more when she’s stressed (or when I’m so stressed that it makes her stressed). I haven’t looked too deeply into it – I think it just happens to some people.

    I know that’s not too comforting, but there definitely are people out there that this just happens to.

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