Are traumatic sleep patterns hereditary?

20 Feb

I’ve had bad nightmares ever since I was a little kid. Not just “boogey-men in the closet” or “being lost in the mall” nightmares… but nightmares of disemboweled of loved ones, and of projectile vomiting tar and blood on people that makes their flesh melt off… and my teeth rotting. Every week in some dream, my teeth rot out of my head. Bad, icky nightmares that make me want to take my brain out of my head and scrub it down with clorox. Ever since I was tiny. I don’t remember a time where I didn’t have them at least 3 or 4 nights a week. I think it’s how I deal with stress. I’m used to them, and they don’t bother me as much as they used to… and they don’t look like they’re ever going away- so whatever. And then there’s the sleepwalking thing that I’ve mentioned in earlier postings…. I’m just not a good sleeper.

But now my poor little fella has been harshly thrust into the world of “bad sleep”. He’s always had problems with nightmares…. but starting a couple weeks ago, it turned into something very different. I’ll hear him moaning and shouting in his room, so I’ll go in there to wake him up. And he’ll sit up, eyes open, appearing to be awake- but lashing out and babbling incoherently. I’ll coax him into getting up and walking around (because I know he’s still in a dream state) and try to get him to snap out of it… but the whole time he’ll be cowering and shaking, totally disoriented. The last time it happened it took me about 10 minutes to pull him out of it, and I was able to do this by having him run his hands under cold water and wiping his face down with a cold washcloth. It’s totally heartbreaking to witness. And I know that he’s not getting a good night’s rest because of this, and the last thing he needs is something else to add to his already tumultuous school days.

So I’m making an appointment with a kiddo-shrink to see if he’s got some things he needs to work out, as well as with his regular doctor to see what he has to say.

Is this kind of stuff hereditary? I never really know. I was adopted, so I don’t know what my biological parents’ sleep patterns are, or how their bodies cope with stress. Along with inheriting my love for drawing, did he also get my hauntings as well? By “hauntings”, I don’t mean it to come off as some “Bright Eyes” Elliot Smith “oh-I’m-soooooo-troubled” bullshit whiny way…. but in that “life annoys the fuck out of me and I don’t know how to express it” kind of way. Can lack of emotional functioning be handed down from generation to generation… even if I’ve made great efforts to try to teach him to talk out his problems and emotions in a healthy way instead of bottling it up? I’m sorry, little Sully, for getting the bad parts of my brain. At least he got my ears.

And an update…. Brad has gotten off his German Industrial music kick, but has now embraced ZZ Top and has taken to standing as close as he can to me with his guitar and playing this vile music while I’m trying to work. He thinks this is so much funner than playing the ’80’s German Industrial music nonstop… but it isn’t. And he thinks it’s funnier because the more pissed I get about something- the better he thinks it is. This is my marriage. Someone needs to come and put me out of my misery.

But I kicked the shit out of him in Scrabble tonight… so I got a little vindication (and I didn’t even have to cheat).



18 Responses to “Are traumatic sleep patterns hereditary?”

  1. ghostpsyche February 20, 2008 at 9:01 pm #

    I am sleep disturbed too…and it runs in my family.
    I recommend a really cool sleep environment….the scarier the situation the less I wanted to sleep. Could his bedroom use a coat of cheery blue paint? I think a peaceful, uncluttered room is helpful. I think aroma therapy can be helpful, especially lavendar…to promote breathing and relaxation. I agree that this disorder is stress related coupled with a really good imagination. Having regular exercise helps with stress…I would go insane if I didn’t run. Good luck!

  2. Kristen Ferrell February 20, 2008 at 9:15 pm #

    He did sleep really well the other night after Brad took him to the beach to run around. We’ll keep that up and see if it helps. And I like the idea of aromatherapy…. that’s great! I refuse to give him meds because who the fuck knows what the long term side effects are for those things on a little kid’s brain. Plus, I don’t want to send out the message that he should just “take a pill to make it better”. That’s the last thing he needs (especially since addiction runs in his bloodline).
    Thank you so much for the tips!!!

  3. Candice February 20, 2008 at 9:17 pm #

    I think it can be hereditary. I have had terrible, vivid, incredibly lucid nightmares (including the teeth rotting thing…it’s so weird that you said that!) since I was a child and my Mom is the same way. I can remember so many times hearing her moaning and crying out in her sleep an it always took a lot of effort to pull her out of it. I’m not sure if I’m vocal with mine, but everytime I go to bed I pretty well expect that at some point during the night I am going to wake up freaked out as hell and have to get up for awhile so I don’t go straight back into the dream. Sometimes I just can’t get over them though…I still feel freaked out the whole day after. I always figured it was a coping mechanism of some sort, because in real life I can be terribly introverted. Either that or it could be something that comes with really creative types who aren’t able to get all of the constantly swirling thoughts and ideas out…maybe another creative outlet could help your boy if child analysis doesn’t work.

  4. orionsreason February 20, 2008 at 9:28 pm #

    sounds like night terrors, they can be so scary.I think it can be hereditary, Both me and my sister have been sleep walkers, she’s a sleep talker and we both as well as my mother have terrible nightmares. All of us, plus my grandmother have insomnia as well.

  5. Kristen Ferrell February 20, 2008 at 9:32 pm #

    It’s so bizarre to me that things like this can be passed down from parent to child. That it’s somehow tied into genetics the same way eye color and hair color are. It’s really pretty amazing.

    I use alot of teeth in my artwork because i have so many nightmares about them. Throughout history, teeth have been a symbol of power (which is why warriors from tribes would wear jewelry made of the teeth of the animals they had killed). In my symbolism and dream analysis books, it’s always said that losing teeth or rotting teeth in dreams means that you feel your life is out of your control, or you’ve lost power over yourself or over a situation that is important to you. I’m a total Type-A personality control freak… so I usually feel this way.

    But Sully is really really creative… maybe I should get him to draw more about the things that upset him to try to get it out of his system. We’ll see what the kiddie head shrinker says and go from there. πŸ™‚

  6. jamie February 20, 2008 at 10:51 pm #

    yeah, bad sleep and bad emotions get passed down. it’s good that you are taking sully to both kinds of the Drs, too.


    [i don’t sleep well either, nor am i a posterchild for good mental health and stable, healthy emotion management.]

    ps. zztop is awesome! and yeah, most people give me the stink eye on that one.

  7. Kristen Ferrell February 21, 2008 at 12:40 am #

    i want to get feedback from both kinds of doctors because it could be stemming from any number of things, and i want to make sure we get this taken care of the right way.

    the concept of ZZTop makes me laugh and entertains me.
    but in practice, it makes me very very grumpy.

  8. OldCrow February 21, 2008 at 2:13 am #

    I think that nightmares mostly related to our daily routin and how we deal with things and events during our life , what we think and being through during the day has a major part on what we dream of.Or if someone suffers from any kind of abuse or been a witness to a very traumatic accidant etc, Sometimes it’s not even that I think..human brain is creepy and amazing as one in my opinion , as far as it goes to kids …well their brain is even more hard to figure out , just the way things work in their lil’ head is brilliant.
    I suffer from nightmares since I was little but I could point the blaming finger on the place a grew up at and the fact that most of the things I seen as a child (and still see but I guess now after some years I built enough walls around me to actually being able to with it) exploding busses and bodies in the air ..gas masks and all that action along car accidants causes that. I thought of going to a shrink , but then again…I rather talk to people that are close to me like friends , than some stranger who get paid to listen to all my troubled-life-bullshit. I guess that the only plus by going to a shrink is that he actually learnt about the human brain and could speak out of experience friends …well does life experience count?…

  9. Brandi February 21, 2008 at 3:31 am #

    kids usually grow out of night terrors. It helps for them to not be overly tired when they go to sleep. They kick in during a certain phase of sleep (around an hour and half after they go to sleep)when they are transitioning into another phase, and if you let Sully just get through it without waking him, he would probably not even remember it in the morning.
    My brother has had really bad, chronic night terrors all of his life. He finds that doping himself up before bed helps, but I wouldn’t suggest it for your son.
    My son and I both share migraine headaches. He and I get them every time the pressure drops. Last night we both had them all night. (We are so connected *sarcasm*) ;-D

  10. Ash February 21, 2008 at 7:17 am #

    Dreams about rotting teeth are the worst! I have real vivid nightmares, and my oldest daughter has had, maybe 3, nightmares in her life? She can name them all. But Hieronymus, my 4 year old, winds up in our bed at least once a week, shaking with his eyes glazed over. Sometimes I wish we could just control/alt/delete our brains! I would be interested to hear what the doctor says! Do you ever write your real bad ones down? I used to do that, then got scared if someone found them, I would be locked up! Ha..

  11. Cassie (Not Looking For You) February 21, 2008 at 7:21 am #

    Lily inherited night terrors from her dad. Almost every night I can hear her moaning in her sleep. They aren’t as bad now that she’s getting older.
    My ex-bf’s mother made her a dream catcher. Not one of those cheesy ones covered in feathers that you can buy at a store, but a real one made from birch trees. We hung it horizontally over her bed (vertically on the wall does NO GOOD!) 3 years ago and it has helped her tremendously.
    We also read calming books before she goes to sleep to help her relax and calm her brain. She’s very intelligent for her age and all sorts of things bother her that shouldn’t bother a 9 year old (like me when I was little).
    I hope both Dr’s can give you some better insight on what is bothering him and how to help it.

  12. dollypop February 21, 2008 at 8:03 am #

    all the people talking about night terrors are right on target.
    and you, darling kristen , have them as well.
    sleepwalking is a form of night terror.
    yes, most children do grow out of the seemingly awake but still transfixed between waking and sleep world hell ick.
    some though, like you and i, keep it and it stays on as sleep walking. being able to interact , to a point , with others or things when asleep. i.e. moving things, talking, some eat or even cook ! not good.
    the icky tumor meds i’m on actually make my dreams worse, all frontal lobe stuff. fun fun. but, i fake my self out and got one of those dream chaser things from indonesia. it’s a cat with wings and freaky looking. mind over matter? i dunno. best of luck for the both of you

  13. Patricio February 22, 2008 at 3:54 pm #

    Hmm… It might not have anything to do with nightmares. I’m no doctor so I can’t say for sure, but from your description, it sounds like Sully is just hyperventilating. This used to happen to me as a child a lot. My parents told me that I would scream and yell about things like zeros and trees. The next time this happens, try the whole breathing into a paper bag thing. I wish you two the best of luck.

  14. Kristen Ferrell February 22, 2008 at 7:38 pm #

    thank you!! i’ll totally try that out next time it happens…which i really really hope it doesn’t, but at least now i’m prepared with a new tactic. it’s so hard to watch your little one freaking out like that.
    i really appreciate the input!

  15. Abby February 26, 2008 at 11:14 am #

    I’ve had crazy dreams my entire life-including the “teeth rotting out of your head” thing. I still remember my first ‘Night Terror’ dream: I was in my crib (yes, I was only about 2yrs old) and I could hear stomping outside the house. Suddenly, the house was on fire and huge toy soldiers busted down our front door and marched towards my parents room. Since our closets connected, I crawled through and sat in the darkness by the door to their side watching the horror of my parents screaming while being chopped up via the shadows dancing by fire light on the wall…..needless to say, my mom said that she found me sitting upright in my crib (still asleep) wide-eyed and screaming at the top of my lungs. Hereditary? Not sure. My mom was the same way & was a sleepwalker, so who knows. Makes one hell of a memory though, huh? Hope my kids don’t get it….I’d be interested to hear what the doc says!

  16. Lex March 11, 2008 at 5:04 am #

    I have the two girls, and the older one just falls right asleep like Gavin and the younger cannot sleep and has horrible nightmares, leading to fear of nightmares, which leads to fear of going to sleep. I, too, refuse to drug them, either of them, for anything short of a really bad cough. Absolutely not.

    I think Sully’s just too old for what I do, which is rubbing foreheads at night and “giving them dreams”, which they then “lock” in, but pretending I’m using my hand to suck out the nightmares. It works sometimes because I’ve done it since they were babies, but I think Sully’s WAAAYYY to old for that crap.

    One essential thing with stress I’ve found is learning how to control your muscles and how tense they are, as well as being able (not easy, I’m still working on this one…) to stall a panic attack by recognizing early symptoms. Feeling a tight chest and shallow breathing while anxiety rises are usually the start of one, and just realizing what it is can change a LOT. Then forcing yourself to take really deep breaths and such. I’m not big on self-help books AT ALL, but I do have one that’s really good with anxiety stuff, and from a skeptic like me, that’s saying something. This is called “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” by Edmund J. Bourne, PhD, and I just got mine at Borders after my one of 2 sessions with a therapist. It works though, and it actually goes through things that may stem from childhood (not abuse or that stuff, but anxiety and stress), as well as stress and panic disorder in adults and kids.

    It’s rare for me to recommend any self-help book or even to buy one, since my last self-help book was a textbook on Latin. Still, if Sully’s having panic problems, this may help a lot and can really show how deep your own go. Plus, well, learning how to breathe yourself out of panic attacks, that right there is a big plus. You could probably look a lot about panic attacks online too. That’s just one option I’ve tried that helped.

    I like the aromatherapy idea too though, that can really be a help. I hope the little guy gets better! Poor thing! My kids are really, really creative too, and this seems to add to these problems somehow, which is also an odd phenomenon. Best of luck with Sully, I know how heart-wrenching it is seeing them panic and have nightmares and not being able to stop it.

  17. artpredator April 24, 2008 at 9:34 pm #

    hi there,

    i have night terrors. they have been chronic and acute for almost 20 years.

    there are 2 types: the kind your child has and the kind adults have. most children grow out of them. the adult kind are typically linked to ptsd, abuse, etc. since this post, it is likely you have found out more about them.

    i have written some about night terrors, lucid dreaming, and dreams in general on my blog, and have taught my son to have lucid dreams (he’s 4). learning how to do that has been very helpful with night mares but doesn’t work with night terrors.

    what has helped me with my adult night terrors: therapy. omega 3s. aromatherapy–specifically burning frankinscense and myrhh resins. my son gets lots of omega 3s since we use flax oil instead of butter etc and eat a lot of salmon and other foods with it, and he rarely has Night terrors.

    to answer your question: i don’t know if they are genetic but as they are a response to stress, how we handle stress is taught within families so could be passed down.

    i wish you the best!

  18. Kristen Ferrell April 24, 2008 at 9:41 pm #

    thank you so much!! that’s all really helpful!! i’m going to look into the omega 3s and the aromatherapy right now!!

    i sincerely appreciate everyone’s help and suggestions with all the issues i have with my little fella. thank you all so much!!!

    big hugs to everyone!!!!!

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