a woman sitting crouched on a bed with her head in darkness and her body in light

When Sleep Becomes Scary: Narcolepsy and Nightmares

Nightmares, as anyone knows, can be pretty scary. Luckily, they tend to occur mostly in childhood and only happen on rare occasions in adulthood. However, nightmares are one of the symptoms of narcolepsy and for people with narcolepsy, they may have extremely vivid nightmares on a regular basis. This is one of the symptoms of narcolepsy that I struggle with the most.

Dream or reality?

I have nightmares that are extremely scary and often my dreams have recurring themes. What makes them so scary though is that they feel so real and intense. Sometimes they feel so real and intense that I struggle to distinguish dream from reality.

When waking up from the nightmare, I can find myself feeling like I am still experiencing what happened in the dream. As well as this, I sometimes also struggle with remembering whether things actually happened or if it was just a dream.

Dreams that feel like memories

Recently, I have found that the nightmares felt so real that it feels as though they have become a memory. For example, there was a horrible smell in my dream that I have never smelt before and I woke up the next day feeling sick for the whole day because I could remember this smell.

Even though it’s a smell I’ve actually never smelt. I also find myself having what I would call flashbacks. Throughout the day, sometimes there can be a trigger, but I have a flashback and feel like I am taken straight back to the dream. This can be very anxiety-provoking.

Waking up from nightmares

Sometimes after a particularly bad night of nightmares, I find myself waking up in physical pain. My whole body hurts and feels so heavy that I have to drag myself out of bed and even the most basic tasks feel impossible. I can feel so dissociated and like I am not in the real world, as if my head is buried in a cloud and everything in the outside world sounds and feels muffled.

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A regular occurrence for me is waking up from a bad nightmare having a panic attack. I will be sweating, crying, and hyperventilating. There have been times where I have had to wake people up because I have been unable to shake the fear that I feel. (Thanks to my mom and my friend at uni who always let me crawl into bed beside them at 3 AM haha)

Fearing sleep

Having such intense and vivid nightmares several times a week (if not every night) leaves me fearful of going to sleep. At times, I have been so terrified that sometimes I lay in bed at night and start to have heart palpitations before going to sleep. Terrified of what the nightmares may bring that night.

Things that help me cope

It is something I have had to learn to cope with. At first, I really struggled and would always have to wake my mom up when I had a really bad night. However, it was happening so often that I couldn’t keep doing this and I had to learn to deal with it and find other ways to cope.

I still struggle but I thought I would share some of the things that I have found to help me as they may be helpful for others who struggle with nightmares.

Sleeping with a night light

This is something that I have found recently that helps me. When my nightmares are intense, I struggle with distinguishing dream from reality and feel a lot of anxiety. I sometimes experience hallucinations which maintains the nightmare. So having a night light, when I wake up I can see my surroundings, see that I am safe which reduces my chance of having hallucinations

Getting out of bed

Sometimes I have gotten out of bed and splashed my face with cold water. I have sometimes literally shoved my face under the cold tap (one time I had my face under the water but couldn’t feel anything). I find this helps to shock me back into reality.

Messaging a friend

Something that has helped me is messaging a friend. Not expecting them to respond at all hours of the morning, but messaging them and telling them about the nightmare. This helps me to realise that it is not real and the process of sending the message brings my brain back to reality. This is a shout out to all of my friends to who I have sent messages at all hours of the morning telling them about my terrifying dreams

Avoid being too warm

I personally discovered that the hotter I am at night, the more intense my nightmares are. I’m unsure if there is any scientific background to this but I have personally found this to make the nightmares less intense.

Do you experience nightmares? Can you relate to Bella's struggle to distinguish dreams from reality? Do you have any coping tips to share? Tell us more in the comments below!

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