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Davis, California

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Column: Night terrors and errors

I had a rude awakening a few weekends ago. Literally. I was rudely awakened from my slumber. It was around 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning when I was woken by a violently thrashing, screaming body a foot away from me in bed.

Before you get too alarmed by that last statement, don’t worry. I knew the body was in my bed before I went to sleep. This body belonged to my boyfriend, CJ, and not some random drifter stopping in to use my flannel sheets.

While he had mentally prepared me for this for months, I was still terrified to wake up next to this writhing person kicking my wall. And you would have been, too. CJ was having a night terror (yes, that apparently is a real thing), and I had no idea what the hell to do.

According to handy dandy Wikipedia, night terrors, or Pavor Nocturnus, can be triggered by several things. Lack of sleep, stress and constipation are just a few potential causes. I am automatically ruling out the last one in the case of CJ because that’s gross. Plus, he’s had night terrors his whole life so that would just be silly.

So you’re probably wondering what the proper protocol is when you wake up next to a rabid human being. Unfortunately, I don’t have a perfect answer. My initial response was to shield my face so it wouldn’t get punched. This could have posed a serious problem if it had, because I doubt my parents would have bought the “my boyfriend had a night terror and hit me” excuse.

In my confusion, I awkwardly tapped his shoulder and attempted to wake him up. The convulsing and gasping stopped after maybe a minute of cautious tapping and the room was silent again.

“CJ … are you awake?” I asked.

After about 10 seconds, I was greeted casually with, “Hey, what’s up?”

He was still asleep.

“You’re not awake, are you?” I asked.

His answer? “Hi.” The guy was out.

After about five minutes of lying there confused, he finally woke up for real and I filled him in on what happened. I had finally observed one of CJ’s legendary night terrors. As is usually the case for him, and people who get night terrors in general, he didn’t remember a thing.

Though it admittedly scared the shit out of me, I must say I got off easy compared to others. CJ did trail maintenance in a forest this summer and shared a rundown cabin with a fellow volunteer. As if being alone in an empty forest isn’t scary enough, factor in having a roommate that gets terrors in the night.

The most infamous story I heard from the trip was the night CJ thought he was being attacked. His roommate awoke to screams of, “Help me! Fucking help me!” just before CJ completely rolled off his bunk and woke up. For this reason alone, I disagree with the quote from Wedding Crashers, “There’s nothing terrifying about the night.” There are plenty of things terrifying about the night.

I guess I have no room to talk since I suffer from alcohol-induced sleepwalking. Yes, it’s true. Apparently, I sometimes go on nighttime adventures after falling asleep drunk. Don’t get this confused with a “blackout.” I always remember when and where I go to bed, but I often wake up … well, not in that same place.

The most popular documented case of this took place last winter quarter. After having maybe two beers at a party in Lexington, I went back to my friend’s apartment to pass out on her couch. We made frozen pizza, talked, laughed and even watched some “Gullah Gullah Island” we found on TV before bed … or couch, I guess.

At 6 a.m., I was woken up by my friend violently shaking me. If that wasn’t alarming enough, I soon realized I was curled up at the foot of her bed. Which was made even more awkward by the fact that she had a guy sleep over. That said, I have two witnesses that will state I’m not making this up. And one guy I never want to see again.

I guess CJ and I are a good fit. I await the day we join forces in our sleep and wreak havoc on my house and roommates. I like to think that we will look a little like Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly from that scene in Step Brothers. Throw pillows will undoubtedly end up in the oven, and purses in the freezer. One could only hope.

In the meantime, I’ll be sleeping with a bike helmet on and limiting my alcohol intake.

AMANDA HARDWICK is legitimately wondering how many people experience night terrors. If you do, shoot her an e-mail (for real) at aghardwick@ucdavis.edu. 


  1. At least he hasn’t physically dove off the bed as if he was diving into a swimming pool and then proceeded to swim down the stairs…wait until one of those kind of interactive dreams happens


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