Night Terrors

Night Terrors

Night terrors are far more frightening from nightmares and occur with an individual appearing to be awake in a terrified state. During a night terror, the person may sit up and scream, looking as if they are awake where as nightmares are bad dreams. It may be very difficult to wake a person during a night terror although they most often happen in stage 3 or stage 4 of non-REM sleep.  Episodes of night terrors may last up to 20 minutes before returning to a deep sleep.   Like Sleepwalking, night terrors occur most often in children.

Risk Factors of Night Terrors

The exact cause of night terrors is unknown; however, sleep studies have shown there are connections between the following factors and night terrors:

  • Genetics
  • Stress, anxiety or trauma
  • Sleep deprivation or fatigue
  • Fever or illness
  • Sleeping in an unfamiliar sleep environment
  • Lights or noise
  • Head injuries
  • Migraines
  • Alcohol, illegal drugs and medications

Symptoms of Night Terrors

While night terrors are similar to sleepwalking and nightmares, those who suffer from night terrors do not remember anything about the episode and remain asleep in its duration. A sleep terror may cause a person to sit up in bed, scream and shout, kick and thrash, sweat, breathe heavily with a racing pulse, be hard to awake, engage in violent behavior and stare wide-eyed. This can be very frightening for those witnessing an episode. If you find that your night terrors are becoming more frequent, cause you fear to go to sleep, lead to dangerous behavior or appear to follow the same pattern each time, consult your doctor or a sleep specialist.

Treating Night Terrors

Many times the patient will be able self-diagnosis the condition and a test is not needed. If the occurrences of night terror episodes are prolonged, a psychological test may be needed. In most cases the symptoms of night terrors can be stopped with good sleeping habits. If night terrors occur on frequent basis in children, often determining the approximate time of the episodes and then waking your child prior and simply taking a few minutes to check–in can stop night terror episodes.  One treatment option is to reduce the stimulus to urinate after going to bed.  Restrict all fluids after dinner.  Make sure an urinate before bed.  Try this for two weeks to see if the terrors are reduced or eliminated.  In severe cases, medication or therapy may be recommended.