Dancing in My Sleep and Other Bedtime Mysteries

I tilt my head back gracefully, swan-like, and lift my arms high in the air. I bring one hand down and gently graze my arm with my fingers, then repeat the same movement with the other hand; over and over, in a languid, ballet-like dance.

Then my husband elbows me in the ribs. “You’re doing it AGAIN”, he hisses groggily, “Roll over and go to sleep.”

It turns out that I’m not performing Swan Lake for the masses; I’m performing these odd dance moves for a party of one – my irritated husband who is lying in the bed beside me.

It’s true. I dance in my sleep.

Every night, ever since I was a small child, I’ve done it. I sometimes wake myself up with my arms high in the air, bringing one hand down to graze my inner arm, then I repeat the same movement with the other side. Apparently it is quite irritating to wake up night after night to your spouse performing a ballet dance from her pillow. I wouldn’t know. I rarely remember these episodes.

I’ve often wondered what exactly is going on in my brain to make me bust out with the dance moves in my bed at night. After all, I’m not exactly a big dancer during the light of day. Let’s just say that I could have a dance off with Carlton AND Elaine and I’d still lose. So yeah, not a dancer. And yet I’m jigging it up in my sleep.

In my attempts to figure out this night-time recital, I’ve come across two front runners I suspect may be the culprit.

Sleep Related Rhythmic Movement Disorder (RMD) is a disorder typically seen in infants and small children, and it involves repeated body movements such as body rolling, banging of the legs, and even humming. This is what you’re witnessing if you’ve ever seen a toddler repeatedly bang his/her head on the wall or headboard as they drift off to sleep. Generally speaking, most children who have RMD outgrow it by the time they are in adolescence.

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD) is a sleep disorder in which a person’s limbs are randomly moving during sleep with no apparent cause. Typically it involves the arms or legs. It only occurs in 4% of people, the majority of them women. It is linked to Restless Leg Syndrome and occurs often in people with anemia or an iron deficiency (I have both due to a blood disorder I had in teenage years). There are also a host of other factors that can cause it, including stress, exercise, diet, and more.

Do I suffer from either of these? I suspect that I have PLMD, but I cannot be sure. I’ve tried to figure it out in the past, by researching various different sleep disorders, and I have even resorted to Googling “Dancing in my Sleep,” which brought no results but a few cheesy YouTube hits for a song released in the ’80s. I honestly have no idea why my arms are swaying in the night. I had a theory for a while that I was simply scratching, but because I was so deeply asleep the movements were languid and trance-like. There is really no way of knowing unless I submitted to some kind of sleep study, or visited a specialist or consultant.

In addition to performing recitals in my sleep, I also grind my teeth and clench my jaw relentlessly. I have even cracked a wisdom tooth while sleeping. As a child I’d wake up in strange positions, with my legs up in the air, or half dangling off the bed. I have also suffered from sleep paralysis, when I wake up and cannot move or open my eyes. And of course, the insane dreams (who doesn’t have those?).

Of course I’m not the only one to suffer through these strange bedtime happenings. A relative of mine used to sleepwalk – I’d awake in the night and inevitably find her in odd places like the bathtub or the hallway closet, usually urinating all over herself. If you woke her up, she would scream. I had a friend in middle school who I dreaded sleep overs with, because I’d always wake up to her bearhugging me so hard I couldn’t breathe. You can imagine how freaked out I was! My two year old gets night terrors occasionally, and he’ll wake us up with shrill, heartbreaking cries so loud you’d think he had really hurt himself – but he’s not even awake. In fact, waking him up during one of these episodes can take up to twenty minutes.

My husband has severe sleep apnea. He holds his breath in his sleep and will wake himself up gasping for air. He also snores so loud you’d swear he was sawing logs. He talks in his sleep, too. Once he woke me up yelling to the wall about how he was going to “kick that guy’s ass if he steals my peanuts again, I need them to be big and strong!” He denies this, of course. He says that the only thing he does in his sleep is fart (he does that too, but I’d rather not think about it right now, lest I loose my lunch).

Sleep is meant to be a time of relaxation and ease, where your body is getting much needed rest to prepare for the coming day. And yet so many of us are anything but peaceful and still after we retire for the night. Many of us are off galivanting into the night, or sitting glassy-eyed and zombielike at the table, eating mouthfuls of ice cream without tasting. We’re dancing the ballet, or grinding our teeth into dust, tossing and turning, feeling pains in our legs, and dreaming things even the best screenwriters could never dream up. Thanks to over the counter sleep aids, some of us are even out driving in our sleep. Terrifying!

The world of sleep is indeed a crazy one. Our brain runs the show – our bodies are just along for the ride.

Image Credit: (1905)

10 replies on “Dancing in My Sleep and Other Bedtime Mysteries”

I not only grind my teeth, but also do this weird…It’s probably a hypnic/myclonic jerk, because it’s always just as I fall asleep, but my teeth chatter. All the time. Whenever the Mr. is awake and hears it, he claims, it scares him because I am so obviously not doing it on purpose. That and occasional sleepwalking (only when I’m not in my own bed/not sleeping beside Mr., and only every once in a while) are my only weird sleep things.

The worst about all these sleep activeness is that you can wake up tired without knowing why the heck? because you slept all night, didn’t you?

I have conversations in my sleep. My mom could just ask ‘What is that?’ And I’ll say something louder. Never realize it after waking up.
My one time sleepwalking was quite traumatic. It was on a holiday in Italy. I woke up in a different aisle of tents/campers, bats where flying over and I totally totally didn’t know where I was and why I wasn’t in my bedroom (even though I had my own tent there).
A very nice Danish couple calmed me down and helped me back to my tent, which was only two aisles away.

I really believe your body just goes ‘Wieee! Mind’s off somewhere, let’s go partaaay!’ when we’re sleeping.

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