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Sleep Disorders/scary screaming episode


My mom (77 years old) told me over the phone that she had a creepy episode last night that has left me quite disturbed. She told me that after falling asleep for like half hour, she started screaming in way she couldn't think imaginable and she rationally thought as she screamed that she had to scream otherwise she would die. She let out 6-7 screams that of course got my dad up and worried and possibly woke up all the neighbors. Finally, my dad was able to ask her what was wrong and the odd thing is mom had no idea what was wrong. All she knew is that she had to scream and had a terrible sensation of doom that if she stopped screaming she would die and she also recalls rationally thinking what a terrible way to die, but once she talked to my dad she felt relieved that even though she stopped screaming she was still alive. She said she didn't have any pain at the time, only a sore throat she had from the day before and a sensation of cold in the left of her chest, but she told us she has had this all winter. She had an EKG done last September and her heart looked good. She sometimes wakes up with trouble breathing, but when that happens, she wakes up scared and coughs, but this was quite different. After the episode, my dad told her not to sleep for a while as he was scared it would repeat. Finally she fell asleep at 4 and slept normally until 8. She told me though that all day she felt weak and odd after the screaming as if it left her drained to use all that energy in screaming. We are all wondering what would cause this and what can be done to prevent further episodes. I read night terrors are common in kids, but my mom is senior and she doesn't even recall having a bad dream. Any help is appreciated, thanks.

Thanks for the question. That definately sounds pretty scary!

You are correct that night terrors are more common in kids, however they can still happen occasionally in all ages. That is most likely what your mom had. These will typically happen in the first part of the night in delta sleep (slow wave sleep). Night terrors do NOT occur in REM sleep, which take the brain about 1.5 hours to get to. Also, because this was an isolated incident (very uncommon for her)it is nothing to worry about long term. This does not make it any less scary for you guys! Night terrors can be absolutely terrifying. The weakness the next day was more than likely part of getting less sleep than normal, having a disrupted night in general, and also partly some stress from the episode.

She may wake up with trouble breathing due to a bit of sleep apnea. If this is concerning to you guys she could get a sleep study to rule that out as well.

Let me know if you have any more questions :)

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Erika Roggenback


I can answer all questions related to any type of sleep disorders, or sleeping issues, for all ages. For sleeping disorders, these can include narcolepsy, REM Behavior Disorder (RBD), parasomnias such as sleep talking, walking or eating, and many more. I can also help with any issues dealing with sleep apnea or PAP. Lastly, I can give assistance on how to get a better nights sleep, sleep hygiene and how your medications can affect your sleep.


I have been a sleep technologist for 13.5 years, having run studies on people of all ages.

Registered Polysomnographic Technologist

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