Two people sit together looking exhausted and concerned. They are sitting in front of a window showing a twilight sky and their own coloring mimics the twilight colors.

Let’s Talk About Sleep

Something I have been wondering about recently is how similar our sleeping and dreaming habits are within a family. Are my vivid dreams, restless legs syndrome, and sleep paralysis just because of my narcolepsy, or are they something my sisters without narcolepsy also experience?

Talking with my sisters about our relationships with sleep

I wanted to see just how much my relationship with sleep differs from my sisters'. For the purposes of this interview, I'll call them "A" and "B."

Let's talk about sleep!

Q: Is there anything interesting about your relationship with sleep?

Kerly: I have narcolepsy, REM behavioural disorder, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD).

A: I lucid dream. I have since I was 4. First time I altered a dream was to stop a nightmare with a wild dog attacking me, which I made a friend instead. Have been doing it ever since.  I also vivid dream. I have super realistic dreams where my senses are heightened and I feel things more deeply as I would if I was awake.

B: No. I enjoy it.

Q: Do you like sleep?

Kerly: I used to like sleep before narcolepsy. I could light a candle and blow it out before I fell asleep and have nice peaceful sleeps. If I don’t have any dreams or insomnia, I enjoy sleeping, but constantly waking up, having insomnia, and acting out dreams mean that experience is rare.

A: Yes, it is a nice reset. It leaves you refreshed for the next day and rejuvenates the body.

B: I guess so.

Q: How would you describe your best night's sleep?

Kerly: No dreams, completely knackered from the day, fall asleep as soon as [CPAP] is on and wake up 2 hours later.

A: Have an exciting or adventurous dream where it feels like you're in the middle of an excellent mystery or action movie.

B: I wake up remembering nothing.

Q: How often do you wake up feeling like you need more sleep?

Kerly: Every day.

A: Rarely; a couple times a year.

B: Every day.

Q: Do you enjoy dreaming?

Kerly: No, 75 percent are bad dreams. I don’t have enough positive dreams to make me enjoy dreaming.

A: Yes, I love dreaming.

B: Not sure. I prefer remembering nothing and waking feeling rested.

Q: How often do you remember your dreams?

Kerly: I mostly remember the bad dreams. I don't have many positive vivid dreams to remember.

A: All the time. The more unusual, the more detailed the memory. The more I have had to change or correct a dream, the more intense the memory will be. I can remember dreams I was having at a certain time in life by thinking of world events that were happening at the time or music I was listening to at the time.

B: If they are interesting, I remember them.

Q: If you have nightmares, how do you deal with them?

Kerly: I wake up and watch comedies for an hour and I pray.

A: I don’t really have nightmares these days. I am usually aware that I am dreaming, so the bad thing is not really scary. I also can change the direction of the dream if I don’t like the direction it is going, or do not think the current projection makes any sense.

B: Like most children, I used to call for my mum.

Q: Have you ever had a sleep paralysis episode? If yes, how did you manage it?

Kerly: Yes, all the time; at least 3 times a week. I lay still till it goes away and think positive thoughts. I say to myself, "Wiggle your big toe repeatedly." Occasionally, it works.

A: Yes, I have had a few when I was sleeping in the day or had overslept. Once I realise that my brain has woken up but my body hasn’t fully, I place my hand on a cold surface or press my nails into my palms, and it wakes the body up.

B: No.

Cut from the same cloth, but very different

Talking with my sisters about how they see and experience sleep was interesting. There were some similarities between me and B in our attitudes about a good night's sleep. With A, the main thing we had in common was the handful of sleep paralysis experiences she had that I have all the time, but how we sleep and how we view sleep were very different.

Whilst these results cannot be generalised, in my family it would appear that there is not a lot in common between us when it comes to sleep. In that regard, we are cut from the same cloth but have 3 very different sleep patterns.

Do you have a lot in common with your family members in regards to how you sleep?

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