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Sudden waking 15 minutes after falling asleep
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Sudden waking 15 minutes after falling asleep

For weeks, I will wake almost every night (or naptime) with a sudden start 15 minutes after I first fall asleep.

It's like I get a sudden adrenaline burst and wake up with a "scared" feeling. I then fall back to sleep within a few minutes. It never happens again all night.

Also (and this is all the time, not just certain periods), when I'm waiting to fall asleep, I start "dreaming" right away--not regular dreams with a "story," but a constant parade of weird, disconnected, often funny images. I'm still on the border between sleep and wake but already feel like I'm dreaming.

Is all this normal? I suspect I have a slightly wacky brainstem because over many years I've had some abnormal "cross-ear" phenomena (e.g., benign positional vertigo with nystagmus causing thumping in my opposite ear during an attack) plus bilateral trigeminal-nerve symptoms and highly abnormal auditory evoked potentials on both sides. A few weeks after a sudden unilateral hearing loss, I started getting "jolts" in my head that made me feel like I was about to involuntarily close my eyes and conk out, but they just lasted a split second. These "whumps" were accompanied by a burst of static in my bad ear. Even now I still get a head "whump" feeling/sound--often double, triple, or quadruple ones in quick succession--when I'm tired or esp. in the twilight between wake and sleep. They used to also occur upon hearing a sudden noise. Could this be connected to the 15-minute wakeups and the "dreaming" as soon as I fall asleep, or are those latter things normal for some people?

Otherwise I generally sleep pretty well. 52-year-old woman with longtime unexplained woozy-foggy-dizziness that is like motion sensitivity and carsickness-in-the-head, plus minor neuro symptoms, some of which suggested MS, but that was eventually discounted. I'm 50 lbs overweight and my husband says I snore, but I don't ever wake up gasping, so I don't think I have sleep apnea.

Thanks for any info!!

Nancy
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Avatar_dr_m_tn
Dreaming too soon after falling asleep is one of the hallmarks of narcolepsy. Even if you don't have narcolepsy, it sounds like you may have a sleep-wake disorder. If you snore and are overweight, it's also likely that you may have obstructive sleep apnea. Along with all your other neurologic symptoms, it probably a good idea to see a sleep specialist in your area for a thorough clinical evaluation before undergoing a sleep study.
5 Comments
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Avatar_dr_m_tn
Also, you don't have to snore or wake up gasping to have significant obstructive sleep apnea. It's been shown that spouses or bedpartners make very poor predictors of whether or not one has obstructive sleep apnea. The sudden awakenings you describe sound like you're waking up during REM sleep, when you're dreaming, since that's when your muscles relax the most.
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572651_tn?1333939396
Hi Nancy,
After reading quite a bit from Dr. Park, I'm going for a sleep study - my evaluation appt. is next week.  It sounds like a good idea for you, too.  We will have to compare notes over on the MS forum when we both are done.

Lulu
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152264_tn?1280358257
Thanks very much, Dr. Park. I didn't know you can have sleep apnea without waking up gasping--I always just discounted the idea and didn't look further.

I have always wondered whether a sleep study would be helpful, also because my dizziness is related in an odd way to how much I sleep (mild, temporary sleep deprivation lessens my motion sensitivity and makes my head feel much clearer). The dizziness-specialist neurologist I saw long ago said it would be interesting to get a sleep study; he theorized that maybe if I had sleep apnea, then the longer I was asleep, the less oxygen I was getting and thus my dizziness was worse the next day?? But when he asked whether my husband noticed anything and I told him I didn't wake up gasping, he dropped the idea.

(I HAVE woken up a few times choking badly on saliva, but only a few times, years ago.)

As for narcolepsy, I don't fall asleep unexpectedly during the day, but honestly, I feel like the dividing line between sleep and waking is sometimes pretty fragile.

Yes, when I wake with a start 15 minutes after falling asleep, I'm pretty sure I've been dreaming. (I know that in the past, when that "start" would occur, I had ALWAYS been dreaming that I'd slipped on wet leaves on the sidewalk and my feet were flying up in front of me--but I don't seem to be able to recall my dreams so easily and reliably anymore, even when I just wake up and know I've had a long interesting dream. Very sad.)

So, it sounds like that waking-with-a-start after 15 minutes is really not something that's normal.

I am going to discuss my dizziness again soon with my PCP and I will ask whether he thinks a sleep study would be helpful.

Lulu--I will be very interested to hear what you find out from your evaluation and sleep study.

Thanks again, Dr. Park!

Nancy
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152264_tn?1280358257
P.S. Not sure if this is relevant but I sleep best on my back--but elevated on 4 pillows so that I'm really kind of sitting up. Later in the night I will turn to one side or the other but always with my head quite elevated. I think this habit of sleeping on several pillows developed because I feel dizzier lying down.
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