What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I’m not sure whether it was the cold, the heartburn or the fact that I was sitting upright in a chair that woke me at 5.30 this morning. Probably a combination of the three. It was accompanied by the dawning realization that I had sleepwalked. Again.
Opening my eyes, all the tell-tale signs were there: chocolate wrappers around my feet, creaking stiffness from having sat, motionless, in the same position, and -– most obviously -- the fact that I was in my living room instead of my bed.
It is unusual for adults to start sleepwalking, especially if they didn’t do so as a child. Dr. Google tells me that people who talk in their sleep are slightly more prone to sleepwalking, and I certainly do that. But, otherwise, I don’t fit the pattern. Other things that make adults more likely to become sleepwalkers include:
- Being an identical twin
- Having a history of sleepwalking in the family
- Being drunk
- Certain medical conditions including heart arrhythmias, night time asthma or seizures, and sleep apnea.
There are also correlations with mental health problems, which fits more with my experience. I believe that my sleepwalking is a result of PTSD, and there is some evidence that suggests I might be right.
The first time it happened, I was horribly shocked and confused to wake up somewhere other than where I went to sleep. It was unexpected, bizarre and disconcerting and I had no idea what was happening.
Sadly, this reaction hasn’t diminished much over time and the same dismay and fear descend each time it occurs. My sleepwalking never seems to get any less alarming. And, because I always (pointlessly) put my glasses on to sleepwalk, then misplace them somewhere before waking up, I have to trudge back up to bed with semi-vision. I’m exhausted by this point, but far too freaked out to sleep. And, usually, far too full.
Because this is the other thing about my sleepwalking. Usually, when it happens, I wake up with food wrappers scattered around my chair and a sickly feeling in my stomach. The amount I can put away during these nocturnal rambles means I have occasionally even woken up vomiting and, as I have pretty severe emetophobia, that –- for me -- is about as bad as it gets.
Even when it’s not that dramatic, it just feels like such a waste to eat all that food when I’m not hungry, and when I can’t even taste it. More than once, I’ve felt profoundly disappointed at having eaten something I was really looking forward to actually, well, tasting. But no, it’s gone, rammed into a stomach that’s now screaming out for antacids.
This morning, there were seven chocolate bar wrappers and an empty bag of mint chocolates on the floor in front of the chair, with several mint chocolates squished into the carpet. I had bought them all yesterday in a discount store and, even knowing my susceptibility to putting away considerable amounts of chocolate (predominantly when awake), I had expected them to last me more than one night. I had expected to enjoy how they tasted.
When I first started sleepwalking, I was terrified that I might have gone out into the street, naked, and done something ridiculous in public that I knew nothing about. What if my neighbors had seen me? I still get those fears, but -– so far at least -– there’s no evidence that I do venture out. My feet aren’t wet on a rainy night, and the door is safely locked, for instance.
When somnambulism hits, it seems that I do fairly normal, day-to-day activities. However, I can never be 100% sure, as I have no memory of anything that takes place between initially falling asleep and later waking up, post-episode.
As well as being thoroughly unpleasant, sleepwalking has knock-on effects in other areas of my life, too. Staying somewhere overnight is quite scary so I tend to put lots of bags and things in front of the door, in the hopes that putting up some barriers will prevent me from wandering off.
It’s the lack of control, really, that feels the worst. Sure, the waste of food, the burning esophagus, the disconcerting awakening and the immense exhaustion that inevitably follows the next day are pretty horrible, as are the random injuries I give myself, presumably by walking into things. However, to know I am functioning -– to some degree –- without being consciously aware of it, and without wanting it to happen, is what really haunts me after a sleepwalking session.
As a child, I was somewhat fascinated by sleepwalkers. Now that I am a sleepwalker myself, any romanticized sense I had gleaned from Victorian ghost stories or childhood fairy tales has long gone, replaced by the experience of sleepwalking as a rather undignified, clumsy and unpredictable phenomenon that I would happily never, ever go through again.
It has been almost four years since I started sleepwalking (and eating) and it is showing no signs of abating. My doctor and I have ruled out trying to treat it with medication so, instead, I am left with impossible-to-measure, frustratingly vague efforts such as reducing stress and improving my sleep quality. Which may, or may not, have an impact. It’s annoyingly elusive and imprecise but it’s currently the best I’ve got.
For now, I'll gulp down some Gaviscon and hope for the best.