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Night Terrors: A CBS47 News Investigation

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Updated: 11/18/2008 10:12 am
You probably know someone who talks in their sleep or maybe even walks in their sleep. But have you ever met anyone who actually freaks out while they're sleeping? It happens and could be a terrifying sign of a serious health problem.

For newlyweds Will and Kathryn Gay, moving day is a big step in their relationship.

"We didn't live together before we were married, never lived with someone of the opposite sex," says Kathryn.

That's a huge adjustment in itself. But the Gays have something else to overcome. Something scary that happens late at night when they're asleep.

Will thinks he suffers from Night Terrors. It’s a serious sleep disorder where you suddenly wake up afraid – confused – and often screaming!
“One of the first ones it happened, I jumped up, I flipped over on top of her and I'm on top -- and I'm just yelling at her face! Who are you! -- Who are you! What are you doing here? Who are you,” says Will.

“It scares me because I am sleeping, so when he does something I am startled it's like someone breaking into your apartment because someone is all of a sudden yelling," says Kathryn.

While Will is part of our TV news team, he never thought of actually video taping himself in action. So we sent him home with a night vision camera. What he captured is pretty wild. However, it’s nothing compared to what the couple's battled before.

“There was a person at the end of the bed, without any skin… I just jumped out of bed and just screamed bloody murder,” says Will.

Since money's been tight, the Gays never considered getting medical help – until now.

"When we have kids, my kids, they're kids you know, they're going to be scared about the boogeyman and stuff. I don't want them to be scared about dad screaming in the middle of the night because there's a guy with no skin at the end of his bed. My kids wouldn't sleep for a week if I started yelling about a dude with no skin at the end of my bed," says Will.

"The human brain can work in strange ways," says Doctor John DeCerce, Neurologist.
Dr. John DeCere, Neurologist, Shands Jacksonville
Dr. John DeCere, Neurologist, Shands Jacksonville
Doctor John DeCerce works at the Sleep Disorders Center at Shands Jacksonville. He says night terrors are most common in children. If they do occur in adults, it's usually caused by stress. However, the intensity of Will’s episodes can be a warning sign of something even more serious.

"It could potentially represent epilepsy. You would not want a condition like this to be undiagnosed," says Dr. DeCerce.

So Will checked into the sleep clinic to be evaluated by a team of medical experts. While the technicians watched his every move from surveillance cameras, they also monitored his brain waves, breathing, heart rate and body movement. These are all factors that help doctors figure out what's really going on. Unfortunately, all the wires and gadgets Will was attached to made it impossible for him to sleep.

“It was very uncomfortable; they put all these wires all over your body, shove things up your nose, and stuff like that. I really couldn't get a good night of sleep,” says Will.

Despite the frustration, Will will try again. He says his health and his family's future depends on it.

“It scares me a lot, but I'm glad I'm taking action with it now so I can get it fixed, and though I would miss the funny stories and all the screaming at night, it’s definitely something I want to pursue,” says Will.

Dr. DeCerce wants Will to undergo more tests at Shands before he makes a diagnosis. He says it could be Night Terrors – some of the signs are there. However, it could also be Epilepsy or Restless Leg Syndrome that’s triggering the terrors.

We will continue to follow Will’s progress, so keep checking back. If you or someone you know suffers from these terrors of the night, please email me: cmcarthur@tvjaxfl.com or post your comments below.

Links - More Information

During my research, I’ve found some good websites about night terrors and other similar sleep disorders.

Sleep Disorders Center at Shands Jacksonville 

WebMD: Night Terrors

Night Terrors Resource Center

Night Terrors & Epilepsy Research

Night Terrors & Children
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Stiney - 11/19/2008 12:49 AM
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For as long as I can remember I've been suffering with the SAME night terrors. It's a terrifying thing. I saw the commercial for the report and without even the sound on my partner knew what it was about. She's suffered with me for the last two years, being woken up on an almost nightly basis by my screams and panic that I barely ever remember. I started taking Luvox in March for anxiety and OCD and since then I barely have them anymore unless it's that time of the month or I'm under increased stress. I was very interested in the epilepsy angle. My mother has epilepsy and I never knew that it could be a cause of the terrors. I'm really looking forward to any updates on this report. It was really reassuring to see that I'm not the only person who suffers with this problem.
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