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Naomi Fry (New Yorker), please get your night terrors and nightmares sorted out!

Updated: Jun 19

In this weeks issue of The New Yorker (March 8, 2021), TV critic Naomi Fry, in discussing the new Netflix TV series ”Behind Her Eyes”, throws around the terms “nightmare” and “night terror” with careless abandon.

Note to Naomi: IT's "The Nightmare" NOT "The Night Terror
Henry Fuseli's "The Nightmare" (1781)

Dear Naomi,

It pains me, but how many times do we have to go over this? Nightmares and dreams occur in REM (rapid eye movement ) sleep.

Night terrors occur in NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. Nightmares and dreams are part of the normal sleep cycle.

Night terrors are NOT and are, therefore, called a PARASOMNIA (a sleep disorder)

The sheer carelessness of your piece in the latest issue of the New Yorker is, therefore, quite disturbing to this medical doctor, molecular biologist and movie blogger who suffered from night terrors between the ages of 8 and 12. Night terrors are most common in children and most children grow out of them.

So In your piece, titled “Wildest Dreams” you discuss, quite entertainingly, the latest hit Netflix miniseries “Behind Her Eyes”, and its “Diabolique” - like the plot twists. Set in a “posh mental-health clinic in London” it stars Eve Hewson as Adele, the wife of the clinic’s psychiatrist, played by Tom Bateman.

Let’s quote sentence one, shall we?

“She (Adele) bonds with another patient (Robert Aramayo), a gay working-class junkie from Glasgow, who is delightfully irreverent and suffers from night terrors. Adele, who is skilled in the art of lucid dreaming, teaches him how to take control his dream life”.

Naomi, almost every word, here, is a contradiction:

NIGHT TERRORS are not DREAMS and would have no relationship to the ART OF LUCID DREAMING, whatever that is?

Before I quote your next passage let me fill you in on some other facts. REM sleep, in a normal individual, comes about gradually and, as we descend into REM the human body become totally paralyzed. Because of signals sent from the higher regions of the cortex to the brain stem and spinal cord, no voluntary movement is possible during all of those dreams and nightmares, obviously for good reason. This is particularly notable for people who suffer from the sleep disorder Narcolepsy where the patient can go from an awake state into REM almost instantaneously. This leads to a sudden loss of muscle tone (a phenomenon called Cataplexy) and, on going from REM to awake, an immediate restoration of muscle tone with such force that can the individual can be thrown across a room.

However, in NREM sleep, the sleep of night terrors, the human body is not paralyzed and is capable of voluntary movement. It is for this reason that sleepwalking (another parasomnia) occurs during NREM sleep and also the fact that night terrors and sleepwalking are closely linked. I "remember", during what was probably my worst night terror, sleepwalking from my room to my aunt's room and telling her that I had seen a ghost! NREM sleep is also important with respect to the side effects of the widely prescribed sleep aids, the nonbenzodiazepine Z drugs such as Zolpidem (Ambien) and Zaleplon (Sonata) which may cause in increase in sleepwalking. As a result, there have a number of reports of people doing unusual things and waking up under unusual circumstances, while under the influence of the Z drugs.

Now lets quote sentence two, shall we?

“In the show's present, she (Adele) offers to help Louise (the series' other leading character) who has night terrors as well. With Adele's instructions, Louise is able to escape her recurring nightmares.....”

There you go again Naomi,


Naomi, I know you are discussing a show that obviously hasn't put too much energy into the science of sleep. However, you are writing a critique here, and I would have expected more from you. Also, what about all of those legendary fact-checkers at the The New Yorker? Why didn't you use them? It's as if I began to write a review of Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 love poem to San Francisco “Vertigo”, yet all of my description and background are of the 1937 Los Angeles of Roman Polanski's 1974 movie Chinatown".

Oh, Naomi,