Night Terrors, Tooth Grinding and other Sleep Disruptions

In addition to the familiar sleep problem of insomnia, many people find that their good night’s sleep can be disrupted by a variety of oddities and pathologies that rob them, or their sleep partners, of the rest that they need. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common things that can go wrong while we’re sleeping.

 Night Terrors

Like sleep walking, night terrors occur when we are in a state of partial arousal following a period of deep sleep. They are most commonly experienced by children, and have a tendency to run in families though when children get them they are not indicative of any kind of psychological malady; in the rare instances that adults have night terrors they may be associated with one of several mood disorders, including anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder. Night terrors occur when the brain is not fully awake and cannot be reasoned with. Parents who try to talk to their child and calm them will find that their efforts are to no avail. The terrors generally only last for a few minutes and are followed by deep sleep.The experience of intense fear is very real and is characterized by physical symptoms including an elevated heartbeat and blood pressure. Children do not remember the experience, though they will long be remembered by the parent who was awakened by their screams in the middle of the night. There is little that can be done to prevent night terrors from taking place other than avoiding extreme exhaustion that necessitates an increased need for deep sleep. Night terrors are not the same thing as nightmares: nightmares occur during REM sleep rather than during deep sleep, and not only do those who have nightmares generally remember them, but they can also be reasoned with after a nightmare takes place. When a person wakes up from a nightmare they are completely awake, where in a night terror it is nearly impossible to awaken the sleeper, and they are not rational or able to comprehend what is happening to them.

 Sleep Talking

People who talk in their sleep are generally more disruptive to those around them then they are to themselves. Sleep talking is usually difficult to make sense of, and trying to have a conversation with a person who is talking in their sleep is generally very frustrating, as the person is not really awake and the things that they are expressing is not well organized. It generally occurs during twilight zone sleep, which falls between the periods of alertness and deep sleep, and frequently during REM sleep when we are dreaming, so the conversation often revolves around what the sleeper is seeing in their dream. What is revealed by taking note of sleep talkers topics is that much of our dream state is taken up with what has happened to us during the day, including what we ate or who we spent time with.

 Grinding Your Health

Grinding your teeth is also known as bruxism. It is something that is generally discovered either by the grinder’s sleep partner, who is awakened by the disruptive sound of the grinding, or by the sleeper’s dentist who can see the results in the teeth themselves. People who grind their teeth can be any age, from young toddlers to the elderly, and though the grinder may not hear the sound they may become aware that they have a problem as a result of the pain that they experience in their jaw when they wake up. A tremendous amount of pressure is used when a person grinds their teeth, and the end result may be arthritis in the jaw, thinning of the jaw bone, tooth sensitivity and inflammation of the gums. People may experience these problems as a pain in or around their ear or neck. Though tooth grinding can run in families, most patients who suffer from this particular pathology do so because they are suffering from stress. Whether it is job related, due to marital woes or worries about schoolwork or money, people quite literally gnash their teeth when they are asleep to alleviate some of the pressures of their day. Much of the tendency to grind teeth also has to do with personality type: people who are classified as perfectionist, or Type A, are much more likely to suffer from this than people who are more relaxed and laid back.

 Nocturnal Leg Cramps

One of the most common causes of disrupted sleep is cramping in the legs that occurs in the middle of the night. It is more common in the elderly, and can be extremely painful.  What happens when a muscle cramps is that it contracts severely and produces waste products; the presence of these products is what produces the first sensation of pain. If the muscle does not release it ends up working overly hard and the body is unable to keep up – the blood supply to the muscle ends up being insufficient. This feeds the pain. Finally, if the cramp continues then it may end up tearing. These cramps occur in the middle of the night in response to movements that we make while we are asleep, particularly if we are pointing our toes, or else as a result of overuse during the day. In some cases adding nutritional supplements such as calcium, potassium or sodium may help to prevent these cramps, but in most cases there is no obvious cause other than the fact that the muscles are shortening while we are sleeping. The best solution to leg cramps is to stretch at night before going to bed. This lengthens the muscle and relaxes it and prevents it from contracting while you are asleep.  The other thing that you can do is to try to set up your bed sheets and covers in a way that will prevent you from pointing your toes while you sleep. This can be done by leaving the covers loose and avoiding turning or moving too much in your sleep. Sleeping on your stomach often encourages toe pointing, and should be avoided; if  on your stomach is your only comfortable position, try sleeping with your legs hanging off of the bed, or place a pillow in your bed to prevent you from extending your legs so that your toes aren’t forced to point. If you do get a cramp in your leg, remember that the solution is to lengthen the muscle from its contracted position. Grabbing your toes and pulling back towards your shin should provide relief.