The mysterious world of sleepwalking is often portrayed as harmless or even amusing. But in reality, it can be dangerous and sometimes, even deadly.
In Iowa City, Iowa, Jarod Allgood was a talented football player during his waking hours and a habitual sleepwalker at night. According to Jarod's mother, Becky Allgood, it all began when Jarod was a young boy:
"He was a major sleepwalker, and all of my boys are. And that scared me. And I'd talk about it, and I'd ask the doctors about it, and they would just pretty much pooh-pooh it, like it's really nothing."
When Jarod went to college, his sleepwalking continued. But nothing serious happened until the night of February 9, 1993.
Jarod got out of bed and ran out of his apartment. His eyes were wide open, but he was not awake. He ran more than a mile barefoot on the icy pavement. Witnesses later reported that he sprinted with the intensity of a runner at the finish line.
Dr. Mark Mahowald studies sleep disorders:
"People who have these episodes spontaneously, like Jarod, get stuck in the state between wakefulness and sleep; awake enough to perform complex behaviors, not awake enough to be aware of what we're doing or responsible for what we're doing."
Somehow in his sleep, Jarod managed to weave around parked cars and turn corners. Then he ran in front of a moving car and was struck. Jarod died instantly. Initially, authorities speculated that he had committed suicide. Jarod's mother didn't buy it. She talked to her son's roommate and learned that Jarod was having a recurring dream about running in a race.
Becky recalls what the roommate told her:
"Jarod said, 'It's a crazy dream. I'm running a race with a man from Bertrum, only the man is in a car, and I'm on foot running a race as hard as I can run.'
Some might dismiss this as just a coincidence. But Jarod was killed as he was running down a road that leads to the town of Bertrum.
Becky Allgood was absolutely convinced that her son had not taken his own life. Dr. Mark Mahowald agreed:
"There was not one shred of evidence that he had depression or any other reason to commit suicide. There was no evidence of drugs or alcohol involved. The only reasonable explanation is that this was yet just another one of his sleepwalking episodes."
In the end, authorities also agreed. Jarod Allgood became the first person in Iowa history whose death was attributed to sleepwalking.
Like Jarod, Heidee Ruiz is a chronic sleepwalker:
"When I hear stories about Jarod Allgood, I think, that possibly could've been me. And that scares me to think that."
Also like Jarod, Heidee is a dedicated athlete. In 1991, she was attending college on a track and field scholarship and felt a tremendous pressure to perform. That pressure seemed to seep into her dreams and she once found herself running while sleepwalking:
"I wasn't running from a particular person or thing. I was just running because I felt like it was the end of the world. It was like a monster inside me trying to get out."
Bonnie-Kay Calder, Heidee's mother, witnessed two of the most violent episodes:
"I heard a blood-curdling scream. Bang-- two big hits, where I could hear her coming through doors. I have to tell you, the force of her running through that hall I will never forget because of the terror, the look of terror on her face was so incredible. And for a mom to not know what to do in order for her not to be able to hurt herself again was a real scary thing. Real scary."
Heidee once injured herself while sleepwalking:
"The biggest episode was in my mom's house back in August of '95. Must've gotten out of bed and took one step and bolted straight into the wall."
The impact tore open Heidee's forehead. She gashed her wrist as she fell to the floor.
The episode was a turning point for Heidee:
"I decided I couldn't handle it anymore. I was terrified, and I said, 'I need to go seek help.'
Heidee was tested at a world-renowned sleep clinic in Northern California:
"I had electrodes all over my head. I had a pulse on my finger. I mean, I was hooked up, like, I felt I was from Mars. It was very, very uncomfortable, but it was an extensive test, and they had to see what was going on."
Heidee was examined by Dr. Clete Kushida of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic & Research Center:
"We wanted to see if we might be able to capture a sleepwalking episode. But that can be rare because it might not occur every night. But, secondly, we also wanted to rule out the possibility that it wasn't something else, such as seizure activity, a sleep-related breathing disorder, or even leg movements that were causing the person to waken and triggering off the attack."
Dr. Kushida could find no physiological causes for Heidee's sleepwalking. But he was able to pinpoint what is likely to trigger an episode:
"There's a lot of different triggers. One of them is sleep deprivation. Secondly, stress can also increase a chance that the person might have sleepwalking."
Both Heidee Ruiz and Jarod Allgood fit that pattern. Their sleepwalking flared up under heavy emotional pressure and lack of sleep. Heidee now has her sleepwalking condition under control through medication and careful stress management.
Although the world of sleep and dreams has been the subject of decades of extensive research, scientists are still left with more questions than answers.