Woman's night terrors make her unconsciously attack her boyfriend in bed

Marie Claire Dorking
·6-min read
Danielle Carter regularly accidentally attacks her boyfriend John Keast in her sleep due to night terrors. (PA Real Life/Collect)
Danielle Carter regularly accidentally attacks her boyfriend John Keast in her sleep due to night terrors. (PA Real Life/Collect)

A woman has told how night terrors make her unconsciously attack her boyfriend in her sleep, occasionally leaving him with bruises.

Danielle Carter, 37, of Epsom, Surrey, says she has no control over her actions as she slumbers, but thankfully her boyfriend John Keast, 33, is very understanding and even sees the funny side of sharing a bed with his restless girlfriend.

Carter, a PR director, wakes her civil servant partner several times a week with her piercing screams, punches, kicks, and flailing limbs.

She can also sleep with her legs sticking up in the air and occasionally sits bolt upright in bed and sings, while fast asleep.

“John and I have a laugh about it," Carter says. "I often don’t remember what I’ve done in the night, but he enjoys teasing me about it in the morning.

“I do feel bad sometimes when I’ve hurt him and I apologise."

Read more: Doctor's TikTok reveals why wearing socks in bed can help you fall asleep

Danielle Carter sometimes sits up and sings while asleep. (PA Real Life/Collect)
Danielle Carter sometimes sits up and sings while asleep. (PA Real Life/Collect)

Carter who started dating Keast in 2018, originally tried to hide her unconscious antics from him in the early days of their relationship.

“It actually gave me insomnia," she explains. "I was so worried about waking him up from screaming that I wouldn’t be able to sleep beside him in bed.”

But now the couple have learned to find the humour in the bizarre situation.

Watch: Ashley Graham gets night terrors

Cater has had problems with her sleep since she was a child and, as well as her violent night terrors, suffers from restless leg syndrome – which causes her to sleep with her limbs raised up.

She also suffers from sleep paralysis, where a person cannot move or speak as they wake or falls asleep but their brain is active, and as a result she has terrifying visions – including one of a man trying to shoot her while she is unable to move.

Danielle Carter has had night terrors and restless leg syndrome since she was a child. (PA Real Life/Collect)
Danielle Carter has had night terrors and restless leg syndrome since she was a child. (PA Real Life/Collect)

“In the past, I never used to tell people about my sleep condition, because I saw it as a bit embarrassing,” Carter says.

“But as more and more of my friends became aware of it, it developed into a bit of a running joke and now I just embrace it.”

A ‘terrible sleeper’ since she was a baby, Carter’s parents were the first to bear the brunt of her flailing limbs.

“If I was having a bad night’s sleep, I’d go and sleep in my parents’ bed, and I’d kick, punch and thrash around – to the point that they’d go and sleep downstairs and leave me to it,” she says.

Read more: Woman shares therapist's trick for falling asleep when you’re tossing and turning

This developed into night terrors, during which Carter would randomly scream in her sleep for up to 10 seconds at a time, occasionally waking herself up in the process.

“Sometimes I’d be in such a deep sleep I’d barely remember it, but other times I’d be wide awake and my heart would be pounding,” she explains.

“It was really scary at first but now I’m so used to it I fall back asleep quite quickly.”

Watch: Dad invents app to help daughter with nightmares about monsters

At its worst, in 2015, Carter would wake up screaming at least five nights a week.

Determined to get to the root of the problem, in the summer of 2015 she saw her GP and was referred to a neurologist, who ruled out epilepsy as a cause.

An overnight sleep test at London’s Guy’s Hospital in February 2016 and further tests also discounted narcolepsy, a condition which sees people randomly collapse when they become emotional.

“Thankfully there was nothing seriously wrong with me, but the tests showed my brain was in a constant state of arousal so I never go into really deep sleep, which went some way to explain my restless legs too," Carter explains.

“I also have Crohn’s disease, which means I’m low in iron – and that also causes restless legs apparently.”

Carter was given small doses of melatonin – a hormone which regulates the sleep cycle – by doctors, which has helped improve her condition.

Read more: Sleep calculator reveals precise time you should go to bed to not feel tired in the morning

It was around this time that she started having the same recurring sleep paralysis vision, that a man was sitting on her windowsill with a gun, trying to shoot her.

“Weirdly, I wasn’t scared while it was happening," she says. "I’d been told that to get yourself out of sleep paralysis, you should cough. So I was quietly trying to cough so the man wouldn’t see me.”

Having crossed paths with Keast – who was also working as a part-time fitness instructor – the pair became a couple soon after bumping into each other on a night out in May 2018.

The first time he experienced Carter’s night terrors was four months into their relationship on a visit to her mum's.

“I only had a single bed at my mum’s so we were sleeping in separate rooms," she recalls.

“Suddenly I remember John rushing in looking worried, and I was like ‘what’s going on?’. He said ‘you were screaming’ – I think he thought we’d been burgled."

Danielle Carter and John Keast in Budapest in August 2019. (PA Real Life/Collect)
Danielle Carter and John Keast in Budapest in August 2019. (PA Real Life/Collect)

Read more: Weekend lie-ins 'rarely sufficient to erase sleep debt'

Confessing the full extent of her issues soon after, Carter was relieved when Keast took it in his stride as they began sharing a bed together more frequently.

“Sometimes when I get up in the night to go to the toilet, her legs will shoot up like they’re looking at you – and then slowly fall back down. It’s so weird,” Keast says of his girlfriend's bedroom antics.

“They could be one up, one down, or both up, and then suddenly she’ll slam them into the bed.

“She’ll do this striking action, with clenched fists beating down. I’ve been on the receiving end of her kicking, and she’s given me a couple of bruises over the years.

“Last summer, she poked my eye with her flailing arm. It did hurt for a couple of days – I had a little cut on the bottom of my eyelid. I know she didn’t mean it though.

"As time goes on, it doesn’t phase me as much," he continues. "While I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve woken up with my heart racing from a scream, there have been so many fun moments.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I’m sure they’ll continue.”

Though Carter has been able to rule out more concerning underlying conditions, she is keen to encourage anyone with similar sleep behaviour to seek a medical opinion as it could be a sign of something more serious: like sleep apnoea, a condition when people stop breathing in their sleep.

Additional reporting PA Real Life.

Watch: How to improve your sleep