When people ask me how I became interested in sleep it’s impossible not to think my childhood experiences played a critical role.
One night, when I was around 11-12 years old my older brother had what I now recognize as a sleepwalking event. He jumped out of bed, climbed up a dresser, punched out his bedroom window, jumped out, jumped off of the roof, and then ran around the house to the front door and rang the door bell. When my mother answered the door, much to her surprise it was my older brother Ben, standing in the doorway dripping in blood. When my mother opened the door, he pushed her aside and ran past her telling her there was a baby carriage rolling down the street and he needed to save it.
These events happened every so often and at least twice (to my memory) landed my brother in the Emergency Room needing stitches. After one event, my brother had an overnight sleep study or maybe it was a sleep deprived EEG. I remember my parents had to sleep deprive him for the testing and they were told he might have a brain tumor.
These events were terrifying and traumatic for my parents and brother, never knowing when the next spell might occur. My brother would shriek uncontrollably and lash out, it was impossible to awaken him up until the episode ended. My brother didn’t end up having a brain tumor but he continued to be haunted by these events through college, one time waking up in the middle of campus in his underwear.
As a result, he developed a lot of fears around sleeping. He told me once that he feels most comfortable sleeping in the basement or on the first floor, understandably. Our family didn’t get a lot of answers when this happened other than it was “normal” and he would grow out of it.
Even though he has grown out of it, I can’t say it was “normal.” He was seriously injured more than once and permanently traumatized. I’ve also noticed that over the years he has internalized a lot of what happened and felt that sleep was not within his control or that something was “wrong.”
Posted with my brother’s permission.