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REGULAR DOZE OF REAL TERROR; Sweet dreams turn sour when you sufffer from a sleep disorder. CLAIRE WALKER investigates.

Byline: Claire Walker

FORGET the boring antics of the Big Brother housemates. This week four families will invite you into their homes for a bizarre insight into things that go bump in the night.

From singing on stage to scoring the winning goal at Wembley, Melvyn Sharpe enjoys some very vivid dreams. For his long- suffering wife Beryl, some of his after-hours adventures are all just a little too real.

During the night Melvyn has pushed, kicked, shouted and sung to his wife - but all while in a deep sleep. In fact, he is completely unaware of his actions until he wakes up.

For the last five years he has suffered from a sleep disorder that sees him act out his dreams.

Melvyn has injured himself while asleep - once throwing himself from his bed in a bid to avoid a stray ball on the golf course - but more often than not it is Beryl who suffers as a result of his unusual condition.

"The wife woke me up one night to ask me to stop kicking her. She asked me what I was doing and I said I'd just scored the winning goal at Wembley," explained Melvyn.

On another occasion the 65-year-old woke in the middle of the night to find his wife leaving their bedroom. He couldn't understand why - until he remembered his dream.

"I dreamed I was back home in Dublin and was listening to somebody in the theatre singing Molly Malone but after the first verse they couldn't continue so I got up and I sang it.

"What I actually did was sit bolt upright in bed and sing the whole verse," he laughed.

Melvyn's curious bedtime behaviour is revealed in BBC documentary The Trouble With Sleep, where families let cameras into their homes to observe them and the effects their sleep disorders have on their lives.

The programme-makers used special night vision filming techniques to catch people like Melvin and sleepwalking schoolteacher Susan Cope, after lights out.

While Melvyn's condition is a relatively recent development, mum-of-two Susan has been walking in her sleep since she was a child.

As many as 15 per cent of children sleepwalk and although most will grow out of it, some will carry on into adulthood. There is no single known cause for the condition.

Not only does Susan walk and talk in her sleep, she also eats - forever scuppering her latest diet. Despite living a healthy lifestyle during the day, she struggles to lose weight because she feasts in her sleep.

Experts agree sleepwalkers are oblivious to their own actions. Part asleep and part awake, they are conscious enough to carry out complex tasks but still asleep and unaware of what they're doing.

The cameras placed around her home show Susan getting out of bed and raiding the kitchen cupboards.

"The more I tried to control what I was eating during the day, the more it was subconsciously on my mind and what I would go in search of during my sleep," she said.

Susan reveals how she has left her locked house in the middle of the night to go to the freezer in her garage.

Fast asleep, Susan only realised what she had done when she woke the next morning to find a choc- ice wrapper next to her in bed.

But while some find her stories amusing, Susan can be upset and even ashamed by her actions. And like Susan, Melvyn and his wife also find his condition very distressing.

Normally when dreaming occurs the body loses its muscle tone so it cannot move and act out dreams, but Melvyn's condition means he continues to move - carrying out physical actions associated with whatever he is dreaming about.

If Melvyn dreams he is in an aggressive situation, he will lash out.

"If you are lying there in a deep sleep and someone starts battering you, your immediate reaction is somebody has walked into the bedroom and they're trying to knock you out," says Beryl. "It's very scary - he is strong and when he lashes out it hurts. At the beginning I would even cry because I'd had such a fright and then he would because he'd hurt me."

Melvin admits he is terrified of hurting his wife: "If I'm trying to punch my way out, or pushing into crowds, invariably I put my hands out and I come into contact with Beryl.

"To lash out at the woman who you are very much in love with and who means everything to you is not normal and it deeply upsets me."

Computer games addict Martin Gillett also acts out his dreams and, unfortunately for his wife Gemma, they too can be violent.

Gemma suffered a fractured eye socket after Martin hit out at her during one dream. She has also been woken up by her husband fighting enemy soldiers in their bedroom.

She once found Martin using their bedside lamp as a shotgun, having taken up position as a sniper at the end of their bed.

"He'd wake me up and say, `Look there, the Russians are in the cupboard and they're shooting us'," laughed Gemma. But while Martin's dreams are usually not dangerous, the lives of one Scots family have been blighted by a sleep disorder.

Stephen Hutcheson suffers from night terrors while asleep - a frightening condition which leaves him gripped by an uncontrollable sense of dread, panic and a need to escape.

The father of three, from Glasgow, has suffered from the problem since he was a teenager. During one night terror, Stephen tried to throw himself through a fourth floor window.

Like sleepwalking, night terrors can be genetically linked. Stephen speaks of his feelings of guilt as the couple reveal five- year-old daughter Nicola has inherited the condition.

"Some of the situations can be quite funny, but there is a distressing side to it as well," said producer Kim Duke. "Melvyn is terrified he might hurt his wife and Susan has been trying to lose weight all her life and can't.

"You tend to think of sleepwalkers wandering around with their arms stuck out in front - it's quite interesting to see what really happens."

The Trouble with Sleep, Tuesday, BBC1, 9.00pm
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 21, 2003
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