Gosh, what must it be like to be Alice Vernon:

“Ever since I was a child my nights have been populated by monsters and aliens and the shadow of another me who sleepwalked without my knowledge.”

Terrifying, I’d imagine. And tiring.

The writer and creative writing tutor brings her own very rich experience to full effect in her book, Night Terrors, which she will be discussing at ChipLitFest on Friday 28 April.

Alice looks into her own night terrors, many borne out of childhood experiences, but also delves into how ‘strange sleep’ has been characterised in literature, history and psychology. She examines the effects of parasomnia on society, and how it has been interpreted – and misinterpreted. Victorian literature, for example, is full of somnambulistic young ladies. She shows how they sleepwalk through the novels of Wilkie Collins, Thomas Hardy and Bram Stoker. Bedroom ghosts inhabit the books of Shirley Jackson and more contemporary writers.

The phenomenon of sleep paralysis – a natural result of one’s brain preventing the body from re-enacting physical experiences during sleep – has long been feared. The Nightmare, a 1781 painting by Henry Fuseli, is a classic depiction of sleep paralysis perceived as a demonic or ‘hag-ridden’ visitation. In more recent times, she write, sleep paralysis may offer an explanation for alien abduction.

Alice Vernon also looks at how night terrors in the soldiers who survived but were damaged by WWI were explored by Canadian psychiatrist John T MacCurdy, helping to advance the field. And she brings us up to date with the experience of ‘lockdown dreaming’ and how lucid dreaming has a connection with video games.

We may also find out what keeps psychotherapist and sleep specialist Heather Darwall-Smith awake at night. She admits in her book The Science of Sleep that there is still much we don’t know about sleep, but offers plenty of insight into the things that help us get to sleep, and that can aid a healthy sleep pattern. Covering the key issues of snoring, alcohol, winter blues, caffeine and even the position of the bed in the room (north/south, away from windows but still with some sight of them), her book is a compendium of everything you need to know about sleep.

Alice is not alone: around 70% of us will suffer from parasomnia, or sleep disorders, at some point in our lives.

But the best news from Heather is that reading in bed is good, and fiction is the most sleep-friendly choice.

Happy reading, safe dreaming, and look forward to joining Alice and Heather in conversation with Vybarr Cregan-Reid on Friday 28 April, at 6pm in the Town Hall.