An unsettling introduction to my husband’s Parkinson’s night terrors
First came the screams, then the imaginary fistfights
I’ve never been much of a morning person. I’m usually pretty moody and cranky when I wake up early. Once our kids were old enough to sleep in on the weekends, I’d often enjoy an extended slumber under my own warm covers.
Ironically, I’m not much of a night person, either. I prefer to be in my pajamas by dinnertime and in bed before the 11 o’clock news begins.
My husband, Arman, was always the opposite of me in terms of our sleep schedules and preferences. He spent the first few years of our marriage finishing his medical residency and fellowship, so he didn’t sleep very often. On his nights off from the hospital, he’d usually moonlight at a different hospital to help us make ends meet.
After Arman was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s disease in 2009, his sleep patterns changed entirely. As I’ve discussed in many other columns, his body was overcome with fatigue, a battle that was nearly impossible to win.
In addition to the severe exhaustion he was experiencing, strange things started happening at night while he was asleep, or supposed to be sleeping. About once or twice a month, out of the blue, he would SCREAM at the top of his lungs in the middle of the night. It wasn’t a quick scream, either. It was a blood-curdling, house-quaking, wake-up-the-neighbors kind of scream that lasted until I could shake him hard enough to awaken him.
The kids would come running down the hall to make sure we were still alive. Every time, I’d assure them that we were OK, and that it was Dad’s Parkinson’s screaming, not him. Then I’d tuck all three children back into bed and quietly lie awake next to Arman as I waited for the next scream.
While I wish screaming was the only outrageous thing to disturb our slumber, it wasn’t. He also seems to physically act out his dreams. (Actually, they seem more like nightmares.) I’ll be enjoying a cozy and restful sleep when, suddenly, Arman will fistfight the air above him. He’ll kick, punch, and practically fall off the bed in pursuit of the bad guys in his dreams. These action-filled nights don’t usually include screaming, which is a definite plus. (It’s a glass-half-full situation.)
In the six years since Arman underwent deep brain stimulation surgery, both the nighttime screaming and the fighting have significantly diminished. My hunch is that because of the deep brain stimulator, he’s taking less oral Parkinson’s medication, which allows his mind and body to have a more restful night’s sleep. Of course, I have nothing to prove my theory.
I have no real answers regarding why his Parkinson’s night terrors happen less frequently now, but I’m not complaining!
Do you or a loved one experience Parkinson’s night terrors or other peculiar symptoms? Please share in the comments below.
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