Sleep and Sleep Disorders

Sexsomnia sells! Dr Rob joins us to talk about a whole host of sleep disorders including chronic insomnia, sleep paralysis, night terrors, Kleine-Levin syndrome, narcolepsy, exploding head syndrome, homicidal somnambulism, sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder, myoclonic jerks, encephalitis lethargica and the horrible fatal familia insomnia. All this plus weird sleeping habits in the animal kingdom.

Music: “Wake Up And Live” by Chick Webb





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Showing 51 comments
  • Fiendly

    all the talk of lucid dreams reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Waking Life. it’s a series of sort-of-nonfiction vignettes of people talking (to Wiley Wiggins) about philosophical topics relating to sleep and dreams, all done in trippy rotoscoping and directed by Richard Linklater. that description hardly does it justice, but suffice it to say it’s essential viewing for anyone interested in the topics of this episode and at least tolerant of experimental film making.

    after watching it, some of my friends tried to provoke lucid dreams until they started suffering from sleep paralysis, which is apparently a risk of such pursuits. i’ve never lucid dreamed myself (in fact there was roughly a decade where i didn’t remember any dreams at all after waking up), but i distinctly remember reading digital clocks in dreams and recently, i’ve actually smelled things in dreams, which is something i’ve never heard of before.

    • Generaleesimo

      Waking Life is one of my favorite all-time movies, and although it has a dream-like surreal quality I would argue that it’s not necessarily about Sleep Disorders (I personally think that the Wiley Wiggins character is caught in limbo between Life and Death).

      • Fiendly

        that is a topic of Inception-esque discussion, and even given that interpretation, the subject of dreams comes up quite a bit throughout the film and even gives it its title, so i think it maintains relevance to this episode. regardless, it’s an amazing film that i’m going to go re-watch right now

    • Matt

      I had knee surgery shortly after seeing Waking Life, and used the Tylenol 3s I was prescribed to learn how to lucid dream…with some success. I could revisit dream environments, resume dreams interrupted by wakefulness…I can still do some of it. Sometimes it’s useful to mine my dreams for layouts and design elements.

      I stopped doing it for a long time when the line between waking and dreaming started to blur a bit though. I was really tired, and needed to cross a busy street…and it occurred to me to fly or jump across rather than waiting. I actually stepped off the curb before catching myself. To this day I’m still trying to figure out the relationship between lucid dreaming and hallucinations from being exhausted.

  • Chew

    When I was in the US Navy I had a shipmate who used to talk about pies in his sleep. He would be sleeping and start naming different pies, kinda like Bubba naming all the dishes you can make with shrimp. “Apple pie… blueberry pie… cherry pie…”

  • Reply

    Well, this was an episode that certainly hit close to home!

    I experience a whole host of sleep disturbances/maladies including waking dreams, sleep paralysis (hypnogogia usually) and attendant hallucinations, night terrors, lucid/vivid dreaming, somnambulism/somniloquy as a child… I’m also from a line of narcoleptics, so it all adds up.

    What’s particularly interesting to me, as a skeptic, is how closely my night time experiences describe those of “alien abductees” and those who see “shadow people.” I have exactly those experiences, but as I’m not particularly susceptibly-minded, I recognize it as dream bleed-through. It’s fairly common for me to “wake up” being only able to open my eyes, whereupon I see a person standing in my bedroom (I live alone). Years ago, that figure seemed a little malevolent — mostly probably because I knew no one was supposed to be there. After experiencing this enough times, it’s still a bit shocking, but I know that if I wait, my body will unfreeze, the “figure” will vanish, and if I still feel a need to, I’ll be able to get up and investigate.

    There are also the “aliens” which are observing me through a transparent ceiling or outside wall, sometimes including rising/flashing lights. In the moment, it’s disturbing if for no other reason than I feel like I’ve just been awakened (and who enjoys that?). But also, these experiences have emotions embedded in them, the way our dreams do. So even though I’m not actually afraid of something outside my window, I am left with the after-effects of fear.

    There have also been less commonly-described events like snakes writhing around my pillows, my bed shaking, and the feeling of someone sitting on the edge of my bed.

    Let me reiterate: I know the source of these experiences is some faulty connectors between my sleep and wake states. It’s startling, because there are instinctive self-preservation reactions involved. But unlike my friends who say things like “how can you LIVE in that HOUSE with those things going on!!” (as if they didn’t happen in other houses), I don’t think any of it is actually real.

    I also remember 3 or 4 dreams every single day; although I rarely have “bad” dreams, because as soon as anything starts to go south, I take control of the dream and am victorious.

    Now I’m starting to wonder if that crack/pop I get in my right ear sometimes when I’m going to sleep might be related to all this nonsense, too…

    I really should do that sleep study.

  • ttrevorttaylor

    As long as I can remember I have never been able to run in any dream no matter how good or bad the dream may be. In some dreams it gets so bad that most of the dream is about me crawling or trying to drag my body towards wherever I was going but the further I go the heavier my body becomes. I don’t think it deprives me of sleep but it’s super fucking awful!

    Another recurring dream thing I have is being able to fly but it is almost always low flying and sometimes I just barely make it over the trees or the houses etc. Fun but super strange.

    Also, you guys should find this site quite hilarious:


    • Derek

      I know what you mean about trying to run or move quickly in dreams. I’ve had plenty, probably edging on lucid dreams, where rather than merely going with the flow of the dream I want to direct where I go and everything changes to treacle, and even my vision becomes blurred (though I suspect that’s because my eyelids actually start to open).

      Flying dreams are awesome, I like those. :)

  • David

    Great Podcast as always. One thing, they did show the kids faces at the end of Inception.

  • Devon

    I have always been lucky enough to lucid dreams, and, until recently, didn’t realize it was anything out of the ordinary. When I was young and had nightmares, I could wake myself up before I got too scared. As I have grown up and learned to make use of lucid dreaming, I can change the setting of my dreams, sorta like video games. I can also “teach” myself things in a dream. If I realize I’m having a dream I think “I wonder if I can do that”, do it in a dream, and then wake up and be able to do it. This is how I learned how to whistle, open child proof containers and read!

    • Generaleesimo

      You’re in the matrix!

  • Derek

    I wonder if there’s anything inheritable with regard to night terrors and nightmares. My wife suffers nightmares occasionally though I very rarely have them, and our kids (2 and 5) have experienced something like night terrors a couple of times. They’d start screaming and crying and were a) inconsolable for an hour or more, and b) they really didn’t look like they’d woken up, or realised where they were. We’d have to sit or stand and sing to them, or read to them, until they calmed down enough to realise where they were and then we could put them back to bed. Very distressing for all, of course.

    I’m wondering if it’s connected to something I experience with dreams sometimes where I actually wake up in the middle of a dream but still think I’m in the situation I left in the dream, so there’s a mismatch between what I thought my physical environment is and what it actually is. Typically takes me 10 minutes to figure out I’ve simply been dreaming and woken up. I’m guessing most people get that occasionally.

    Great ep, btw, guys.

  • Derek

    Apparently you can kinda tell if you’re in a dream if you can find some text – read it, look away from it, then look back at it and it will be different if you’re in a dream. Can’t remember where I heard that, but it sounded like something to try out.

    • Derek

      …thus demonstrating I had only listened to half the podcast. My bad.

      As an apology I thought I’d share this snippet of Dr Suess’ Sleep Book, of which I was reminded when you spoke about the guy who recorded his somniloquies:

      “Do you talk in your sleep…?
      It’s a wonderful sport
      And I have some news of this sport to report.
      The World-Champion Sleep-Talkers, Jo and Mo Redd-Zoff,
      Have just gone to sleep and they’re talking their heads off.
      For fifty-five years, now, each chattering brother
      Has babbled and gabbled all night to the other.
      They’ve talked about laws and they’ve talked about gauze.
      They’ve talked about paws and they’ve talked about flaws.
      They’ve talked quite a lot about old Santa Claus.
      And the reason I’m telling you this is because
      You should take up this sport. It’s just fine for the jaws.”

      It’s a great book if you haven’t read it. Lots of wonderful lyrics, especially when you try to get through them in one breath.

  • Fred

    Last month, Professor Richard Wiseman released an iPhone/iPad app that uses your iOS device’s motion sensor while it’s placed on your bed to estimate what stage of sleep you are in. If you’re in deep sleep shortly before your alarm is set to wake you up, it plays an audio clip representing a certain dream scenario. When you wake up it asks you if you were aware of the sound that it played, and you can write a dream diary entry describing what you remember about your dream. It generates a graph to show you your sleep cycles from the past night, and it collects the dream info from all the users of the app so Wiseman can see if the sounds influence the dreams. They claim that some of the audio samples are supposed to help you have lucid dreams, but I don’t know how well that actually works. Here’s his initial announcement of the app and the project:

  • Nick Curnow

    I’ve been keeping a dream diary for a while now, and I have to say, there is some pretty nightmarish stuff. A few years ago during high school (I was in boarding school), I started getting pretty awful night terrors, and would wake up screaming, also waking up people in rooms nearby. this would happen regularly, until I graduated. At which point, I haven’t had night terrors since!

    • Toren

      High School is the most nightmarish nightmare of all.

  • Gavin Pitts

    Great episode!

    I’ve been Forensically involved in two “Sleep Automaton Murder” cases, where sleeping people killed a loved one, whilst asleep. Similar circumstances- one guy dreamed he was playing basketball, and awoke to find himself slamming his wife against the side of the road, one guy got up, went downstairs, took a knife and killed his sister with it. First guy was black, got convicted. Second guy was white, got acquitted. Hmmm…

    I can routinely read text in my dreams. So you’re saying… I’m a superhero?!

    Dream Analyst: “A nightmare now would be a 5 or 6 on the scale here. She’s about… 3…”
    Dream Analyst: “Something… something’s wrong, I’ve never seen a dream like this…”
    (READOUT ON SCALE: 12…34….55…98…)”

  • banks!

    Sunerferturnapis! Toren will get that.

    I watched a programme while living in England about unusual sleep habits. There was one man in the US who’s sleep patterns forced him to sleep from around noon to 9pm every day. He couldn’t change his sleep patterns no matter what was tried. He had a few kids and passed this on to his daughter but none of the others. So he and his daughter would wake as the rest of the family was going to bed and live their lives. It was very interesting. Unfortunately I can’t figure out the name of the programme to provide a link.

  • G A McKnight

    My ex did occasionally have rather loud somniloquies, but they were in Hungarian so I have no idea what about.

    Also, while I never experienced the sensation of feeling like I was about to fall out of bed I did frequently actually fall out of bed and sleep right through it. The first I knew about it was waking up on the floor.

  • jennifer

    My son had night terrors when he was about 5. I would be in the living room and hear him scream in terror, I’d rush in there only to find he was blissfully unaware of what had happened.

  • O. C. P.

    In Spain a man killed his wife and mother-in-law while asleep, believing he was being attacked by ostriches.

  • Julie

    Ok, as much as I respect Dr. Rob, there was one point where what he said was shockingly inaccurate, or at the very least incomplete. There IS a way that embryos can be tested for genetic diseases before pregnancy – in vitro fertilisation (IVF.) In this scenario, eggs are harvested from a woman, then inseminated with a man’s sperm, and allowed to grow into blastulas before transplantation. These very very early stage embryos CAN be tested for genetic diseases, and the couple having the child can elect to implant only those embryos which test negative for certain diseases. Can you test for genetic diseases before forming an embryo? No. But you can test before having a pregnancy. Just another miracle of modern medicine.

  • Charles Mair

    i think you guys were talking about megaforce rather than delta force.

    • Generaleesimo

      Oh snap! You are totally right. Megaforce with Barry Bostwick, those are some pretty angular motorbikes! (scroll down to see the images at the bottom, they are priceless)

  • Charles Mair

    i’ve been visited by the hag on several occasions. the depiction of the phenomenon in this episode is extremely close to my personal experiences, especially the noise that i’ve made a few times when doing everything i could to move or cry out. my own personal impressions were more of someone trying to get inside my head, rather than my house or room. also, i’ve been told i talk in my sleep quite often. it’s mostly unintelligible, but recently my girlfriend told me that i yelled “just the tip!” a few times. i found that pretty funny.

  • Raptor-Chick

    My grandpa had some pretty serious nightmares. My mom once told me a story about when she was young. She woke up in the middle of the night to a blood curdling scream. It turned out that grandpa dreamed that he was in bed with a giant snake and tried to strangle my grandma. Everyone was okay though.
    I have lucid dreams all the time. I didn’t even know that they were something special until I had a conversation with a co-worker. I find they are easiest to have when I can sleep as long as I want and the room is a little bright. They never happen when I have to wake up before I’d like. I also don’t do as much in them. I know I am dreaming, but I seem to be content to just let things happen.
    I have also had some especially vivid dreams, one where I smelled food in a dream and a few where I actually felt pain. The worst are the nightmares where you wake up crying because you can’t stop something from happening… >.<

  • Nick Curnow

    Oh, and before I forget, in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, while not technically dreams, are seen as dream sequences:

    • Nick Curnow

      Here it is! (Forgive me, I am not well versed in the art of embedding links!)

  • desertpoppy

    My husband and I are a huge fan and listen to these podcasts each week, him usually before me (we listen to it again later on). This week he listened and was excited afterwards because all MY nighttime issues were talked about, but we really never had names for them. i have done a little research and think I suffer from hypnagogia as well as night terrors. I never had them as a kid, but went through some pretty traumatic stuff that resurfaced after my Grandma died when I was 21 – I am 27 now. Frequently, even more so when I am stressed out, I will “freak out” and wake up thinking someone is in the room with me, attacking us in bed; I am sweating, my heart is racing, and have been tempted to reach for my gun to “save us”, and am inconsolable for quite some time, occasionally turning into tears. My husband would frequently have to shake me out of the “terror” and I have hit him/attacked him once or twice :(. I usually do not recall any of this until he brings it up the next day, asking if I remember the episode, and when I finally do, I can describe what I thought was going on at the time. After discussing this with my therapist, she suggested to listen if my dogs are getting upset (as if someone REALLY was in the room with us). When I remember to do this, usually after I have almost fully waken up, I find myself able to calm down and go back to sleep because they are asleep too and no one is in the room. Interestingly, if I am more active, like when I was training to run a half marathon last year, I experience less of these episodes – maybe because exercise helps with the stress?

    I also tend to fall asleep without thinking I am and wake up talking to my husband as if he was actually talking to me, which he usually isn’t. When this was mentioned on the show, sleep misperception as you called it, my husband was excited to know that it’s not that strange at all, just annoying. I will mention to my husband that I feel like I didn’t sleep at all at night, when he was the one actually awake and knows that I was fully asleep.

    I have also been known to have full conversations with people while I am asleep, mostly coherent and at conversation level. My husband will sometimes wake me up so I will stop talking and let him sleep. My sisters told me that I would frequently wake them up by talking when we were kids and shared a room. I also occasionally suffered from somnambulism when I was a kid, but that was pretty rare.

    After hearing this, my husband has urged me to see if our insurance will cover a sleep study. I agree with him to try it out so I can be diagnosed at least and keep working to get a handle on them as much as I can.

    Thank you for covering this topic with such humor and candidness. keep up the causticlly awesome work 😀

    • Toren

      Good luck! I’d be interested to know if you take that sleep study how it turns out.

  • Yael

    My favorite lucid dream: I lied on the grass, head up, a man with a suit was flying above me. I thought, cool, if someone is flying above me, why can’t he be super good looking? so he changed into a handsome man. I realized it is a dream and I can do whatever I want. Here is where the dream became very sexual: I put my own hand into myself and was experiencing orgasms. The main feeling was of realizing this is the ultimate freeing event, I can do WHATEVER I want/can

    BTW we are two v.liking listeners from Israel

  • Phav Nosnibor

    I’ve never managed (or been forced, thank gawd) to stay awake for three days straight, but even after two-day programming binges in university, some pretty awesome hallucinations could take hold. Kind of like the Kevin’s tendril movements, space would start bending in fantastic ways at the edges of my vision, and I’d turn my around sloooooowly to try to watch it. The guys from Techno Animal reportedly did a lot of their early recordings that way, too, which inspired me to try the same, but I can never focus enough to commit anything to tape once I’m that far gone.

    • Derek

      I agree, 2am is no time to be trying to program geometric transformations. A little sleep and a pen and some paper the next day makes all the difference. :)

  • Jim

    Thanks for the shoutout, Joe! I introduced you to Sandman, you started The Dreaming web site ( (go ahead, search for ‘fulgham’), then Neil started getting a real online presence after that showed him the power of Internet fandom — how much later would he have gone online if Joe hadn’t put up the first and best Neil Gaiman fan site?

    Good job successfully combining sleep disorders and Dune! I LOL’d.

    It’s my understanding that flying in dreams represents sex subconsciously (sex in dreams being a bit more obvious). When flying in my dreams growing up I’d barely get off the ground :~S

  • Amanda M.

    Re: Bruxism, I’m a victim of that myself. I have a back molar that’s been so ground down from clenching that it’s completely flat and has no enamel on top anymore. I have to use Sensodyne toothpaste all the time or else it’s an agony to eat anything.

    I waited too long to get a bite guard (getting fitted for one this Friday, as a matter of fact), so be warned by my sorry example!

  • Jon Paynter

    Great show guys!

    ttrevorttaylor – I looked at that website you mentioned and nearly pissed myself laughing. So funny!

    My wife has the hilarious habit of waking up, mid dream, and getting into an argument about the room we are in. It goes something like this:

    Wife: raises head or sits up in our bed (in our room), looks around wide eyed, like something weird is happening.
    Me: “Hi”
    Wife: “Those are our curtains”
    Me: grinning “Yup”
    Wife: “These are our sheets”
    Me: “Yes”
    Wife: “This is our room”
    Me: “Yeah”
    Wife: “No, you don’t understand, this looks exactly like our room”
    Me: “That’s because it is our room”
    Wife: “No, you don’t understand, this looks exactly like our stuff”
    Me: “That’s because it is our stuff”
    Wife: irritated at this point “Oh, you don’t understand” flops back to sleep with a “hmpf”.

    She later told me she was dreaming that we were staying somewhere else, but the room looked eerily like our room at home. This is a reoccuring dream for her and the conversation I outlined above is basically what happens each time. It is very funny. Interestingly, she does not have this dream when we actually are staying somewhere else.

  • Lepus Rex

    When I was young, and new to driving (and driver fatigue), I’d often fall asleep at the wheel. Back then, I lived in one rural exurb, and worked in another, and would drive home through the swamp on narrow, winding country roads. Usually after midnight. More than once, I fell asleep maybe ten miles from home, and then woke up in the driveway hours later, car running, foot on the brake. Thankfully, I never hurt or killed anyone. Terrifying, really.

  • X

    “His safe word is Muad’dib”. I’m still howling.

  • nhelgren

    You guys shoudl check out Mike Birbiglia, He has written several pieces about his sleepwalkign and night terrors. He’s recorded a few for This American Life (this is my favorite – he’s in Act 1 – and his book sabout his experiences (Sleepwalk With Me) is now a film.

  • Renae

    I had a reoccurring dream when I was younger, I would walk down the hall wall in my house, I pause briefly at each door way and look in. The hall led into our living room. Turning left I would see our neighbor, slouched forward seated on a couch near the sliding glass door. The first time I dreamed this she said “don’t open it” I turn from her seeing nothing on the other side of the glass, slowly slid the door open. Instantly large dogs with red eyes lunged at me. The moment I felt the teeth I would wake up. It repeated, with her words changing each time. 2nd time “remember last time” 3rd “don’t be stupid girl”
    I ended when I looked back at her, turned and walked away from the door. never had the dream again.

  • Kabur Naj

    Apparently there has been research in the past few decades which suggests that our standard eight-hour sleep is itself a type of sleep disorder brought on by the industrialized age. When cities started getting lit up at night, people would stay up later than in previous times (where sunset had generally been the signal to go to bed and sunrise the signal to get up again). This led to people being more tired on average and therefore sleeping straight through the night, whereas literary and physiological evidence suggests that in previous times the norm was something called segmented sleep.

    I first heard about this on CBC Radio’s “Ideas” about five years ago, in a two-part programme called “While You Were Out” ( In it, an NIH psychiatrist named Thomas Wehr describes an experiment he conducted where the subjects experienced fourteen hour nights with no artificial lighting for four weeks straight. Initially people would sleep upwards of eleven hours each night, but then as they paid off their “sleep debt” they gradually settled into a rhythm of sleeping about eight hours each night, albeit interrupted by a 2 hour waking period in the middle. Independently of this, a historian named Roger Ekirch had assembled numerous pre-industrial literary references to “first sleep” and “second sleep” from all over the western world, and the two researchers concluded that this pattern is actually our natural evolved sleep cycle but which we’ve abandoned in the modern age. Wehr also mentions that the experimental subjects claimed to feel far more lucid during their waking hours after they had paid down their sleep debt. (Episode 1, 14:40-17:30 and 30:40-37:30.)

    Here’s a more recent article discussing the some of the same material:

    I really need to organize my affairs so that I can try this out sometime—and while I’m at it, I’ve always wanted to try out the “inverted vision” experiment (

    • Kabur Naj

      Weird… The Jeff Warren link works fine when I copy/paste it into my browser (or click open in another tab), but if I click directly on the imbedded link I get redirected to an ad for boner pills.

      • Joe

        It means his site has been Pharma-hacked. The hack checks for a referrer before showing its payload so the owner probably won’t ever notice it.

        I’ll let him know. Thanks for pointing it out!

        • Kabur Naj

          Thank *you*! It also made it difficult to link to his site on Facebook (or to find it through Google in the first place) because the auto-generated previews comprised copy from the ad-site.

  • michael

    Dr. Rob, “I’d travel to the center of the sun. I’d kill God!” Epic.

  • CJ

    Hey guys,
    First off! Great work! I would like to tell you about a recurring dream that I have had for years. It is a night terror for me but might be pretty funny for you. I have a lucid dream but cannot change the outcome no matter what I do. It always starts the same; I am at a party, all the people I have ever cared about are there, all the way back to High School. I start to feel that I need to urinate very badly. With every passing moment this urge becomes worse and worse. I can’t find a bathroom at all and I can’t find a “pot to piss in” away from any of my guests. I run around holding my dick, pinching off my Sgt Major, trying to stop from pissing on everyone. I run up the stairs and down, into every room I can find into a lucid dream, looking for a bathroom, plant pot, pool, and trough, anything to use, feeling it backing up into my brain, I succumb to the feeling and make a total ass out of myself in front of all my so-called friends by pissing on everyone and I wake up not but seconds after, and I realize that I don’t need to go to the bathroom at all. Chew on that! I love your podcast and I found out about you from TheBookGuys Show. I have no TV so I listen to many podcasts. BTW, ever since I went to a nutritionist and got rid of my potassium deficiency among other deficiencies other minerals(Iron and Magnesium). For almost a year now I haven’t had that dream. Hope I don’t have it now… after talking about it.
    Sir Christopher,
    “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the the universe.” -Albert Einstein.

    • Generaleesimo

      At least it doesn’t end with you in a pool of your own effluence. Silver lining (or not so golden lining, as the case may be).

  • curtis

    heh, a certain family member had a somnambulist episode once (or so he claims, but other suspect the drink may be the real cause).
    he’s staying with my aunt for a few days, and one night the aunt is awoken by noises in the kitchen, specifically somone is opening her oven. she scurries out of bed to see who is cooking at 3 am to find my family member in front of the oven with his pants partially undone in the manner implying he was about to relieve himself. she asks him what does he think he’s doing and he replies vaguely something like ‘oh i was just fixing this thing here…’ then wanders back to the guest room.
    dunno how you confuse an oven with a toilet, but… there you go.

  • Julia

    Can’t believe you didn’t mention the game “Yume Nikki” in Pop Culture. It’s a Japanese puzzle/RPG horror adventure where you explore weird dreams.

  • LeadCuresCancer

    When I was living in Chilliwack I had a summer job in a roofing company which started at 3:30 am. One morning while driving to work I turned onto Prest Road and woke up into the next turn. I said a profanity, ran over a sign and totalled my car.

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