• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

'Night terrors' often misdiagnosed

April 20, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Imagine if you or your significant other woke up every night screaming and thrashing around, even hurting themselves, or you. Sleeping disorders like "night terrors" can send your life into a tailspin. And all too often, they are misdiagnosed. "Night terrors are a specific type of parasomnia that occurs during the lighter stages of sleep," said Dr. Alon Avidan, neurologist, UCLA Sleep Disorders Center. "The patient wakes up in a state of terror and they appear to be very aggressive."

Dr. Alon Avidan is a neurologist at UCLA who specializes in sleep disorders, and he's seen it all.

"Walk through windows, broken glass, start driving while they're asleep," said Dr. Avidan.

"Terrifying, just terrifying," said John Chadwick, who experienced sleep problems.

John Chadwick is one of Dr. Avidan's success stories. Chadwick spent 10 years afraid to go to sleep.

"I did go through a ground-floor window, complete with screen," said Chadwick. "I even smashed the television."

Chadwick, his wife and daughter can laugh about it now, but it was an agonizing time: John had a type of parasomnia known as REM sleep behavior disorder, or RBD. It causes people to act out their dreams.

"It began with a blood-curdling scream, and then throwing himself out of bed," said Suzanne Chadwick, John's wife. "He kicked me. I remember I landed on my head."

John was terrified he could seriously injure, even kill, his wife and daughter.

"My wife of 40 years," said John. "My God, I couldn't go on without her."

"I think my biggest concern was watching him feeling so crazy," said John's daughter, Becky Alvarez.

"He felt so awful he made a seatbelt that went around the bed," said Suzanne. "He restrained his wrists. He literally hogtied himself at night."

John used to go to sleep with his wrists and feet restrained, his entire body tied down.

"The dangerous thing is I was getting out of bed," said John. "Maybe attacking my wife. And to realize I had no control over it, like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

Some sleep disorders can be a sign of underlying issues.

"Like depression, like anxiety disorders, like schizoaffective disorders," said Dr. Avidan.

One man set up a home video camera in his bedroom. In one instance, he can be seen acting out his dream of being a samurai warrior. In another, he's fighting off a bunch of snakes.

Ronald Voegtli battled sleep terrors for years, at times terrorizing his family.

"I would run through the house with a baseball bat and a knife, go through each room," said Voegtli.

"Well, and one time he did try to strangle me," said Ronald's wife, Ann Voegtli.

John Mosedale's mother remembers one of his first traumatic episodes.

"He opened the window, jumped out on the roof and jumped onto a pine tree," said Cynthia Mosedale, John's mother.

"I jumped onto the pine tree, slid down it and was running down the street, yelling," said John Mosedale. "They were horrified. Well, I looked down and my whole chest and stomach was just blood."

For John Chadwick, the correct diagnosis led to a change in his medication.

"The results were instantaneous," said Chadwick.

That, and a concerted effort to reduce the amount of stress in his life, have transformed Chadwick's nights from chaos to calm.

"I'm still getting used to the whole idea that I can relax, that there is a tomorrow," said Chadwick.

The Chadwicks credit Dr. Avidan with saving Chadwick's life.


MORE L.A. BREAKING NEWS, WEATHER, TRAFFIC, SPORTS

USEFUL LINKS:
SEND TIP || REPORT TYPO || TWEET @abc7 ||  WIDGET


Load Comments