This post was contributed by a trauma survivor.

The roar of motorcycles fills the air.  My legs are pumping, chest is burning, long grass whooshes past my bare feet.  The hills are so tall, surely I can hide, but no, they keep finding me.  The game is cat and mouse and the mouse is losing.  I slip, feet tangling, I’m down, GET UP!

base and lamp green backgroundSuddenly, I’m lying in bed and my dorm room is full of people.  WHAT?  I sit up hurriedly, while my resident advisor asks if I’m okay.  She explains that I just screamed and she keyed into my room with a posse to defend me.  “It was just a nightmare,” I say.  Within a year, I’m asked to find a solution or leave student housing because my roommate is also terrified…of me.

In the nearly three decades since that day, I’ve had countless night terrors, three sleep studies, and a diagnosis of PTSD.  I’ve bloodied my palms and knees fleeing my bed and once endured two months of voice rest after damaging my vocal cords.

I consulted a sleep specialist who prescribed medication that reduced my night terrors, but with horrible side effects.  He also advised me to adjust my diet, practice good sleep hygiene, and actively reduce stress in my life.  Over the course of years, these efforts reduced the frequency and severity of my night terrors from twice a week to once a month.

I also met and married Adam, who is an engineer, a problem-solver, and an inventor.  He quickly discovered that touch or noise won’t rouse me from a night terror.  Instead I integrate those sensations into the night terror, making a bad situation worse.  Adam learned that light is the quickest way to end an episode, but he sleeps peacefully and awakens slowly, struggling to find the lightswitch while I’m screaming.  For both our sakes, Adam was motivated to make light happen auto-magically.

Adam attended my sleep studies, asked questions, and inspected equipment. He duplicated some of the equipment and I hid it, because electrodes may be confusing but everybody knows why a video camera is positioned above a bed!  Adam quickly realized that heart rate monitoring was the key because my heartbeat spiked dramatically before every night terror.  Unfortunately, a solution wasn’t practical because who can sleep wired to electrodes every night?

Time passed and technology progressed.  Wireless heart monitors were developed.  And SafeWake was born.  It’s a light that turns on when my heart rate reaches a certain level.  Here’s how it works:

Each night, I don the heart rate monitor, which has a soft wrist strap and velcro closure.  I press the button on its face until a green light appears against my skin.  I check the amber light on the SafeWake lamp, indicating lamp and monitor are paired.

Then I struggle with insomnia because it’s what I do.  When insomnia grows boring I visit the bathroom.  When I return to the bedroom, the devices pair without any help from me thankfully.  Eventually I sleep.

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