Night terrors

January 5, 2022by Rob Starr0

Night terrors are sleep disorders that can cause someone to experience intense episodes of fear and terror while they sleep. This experience is often accompanied by physical reactions such as intense sweating, rapid breathing, kicking off the bedding, or thrashing about in general. While night terrors are not uncommon for young children, adults can experience them as well. What should you do if this happens? Here we will discuss what night terrors are and how to help those who experience them.

What are night terrors and why do they happen?

how to stop night terrors

Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, are parasomnia disorders that cause people to experience intense fear and terror while they are asleep. This experience is often accompanied by physical reactions such as sweating, rapid breathing, kicking off the bedding, or thrashing about in general. Night terrors usually occur during deep sleep stages (stages three and four) and tend to be most common in young children. However, adults night terrors occur as well.

  • Nightmares: are often confused with night terrors because they both occur during sleep but the experience of nightmares is much different than that of a person experiencing a night terror episode. Nightmares can lead someone to experience feelings of fear or anxiety after they have woken up. However, night terrors are not associated with nightmares which can cause someone to experience intense fear or terror while they sleep.
  • Night terrors: tend to be more common in children under the age of ten however adults who experience them report that it happens most often when there is a significant change in their health conditions, medication, or lifestyle.

Symptoms

The initial indication of a night terror is often when you sit up in bed and scream.

You may also:

  • scream or cry
  • To be stared at blankly
  • Flail or thrash in bed during the night
  • Breathe fast and deeply.
  • You may also experience an accelerated heart rate
  • you can be flushed and sweaty.
  • seem confused
  • become aggressive

What causes night terrors?

As with other types of parasomnia, there is a good chance that night terrors have a genetic component that can occur at a younger age. In addition, those with sleep problems such as night terrors are more frequently identified. In the United States, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the main cause of sleep phobias in children – and it is often the cause of sleep phobias among children.

Sleepwalking

Any experience of stress or trauma including loss, grief, divorce, and death. Changes in sleeping medications or medications that affect the central nervous system such as methamphetamine use can also lead to night terrors.

Thalamic dysfunction

Can be another underlying cause of night terror episodes. The thalamus is responsible for relaying sensory information to the cortex and it also helps regulate sleep-wake cycles. When there is a problem with the thalamus, it can lead to disrupted sleep patterns including night terrors.

Genetic factors

As mentioned, there is a good chance that night terrors have a genetic component that can increase the likelihood of experiencing them. Studies have shown that there is a higher incidence of night terrors in families where at least one member has experienced them.

Who is affected by night terrors?

sleep medicine

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, night terrors are most common in children between four and twelve years old. They can also occur among adolescents as well as adults under certain conditions such as sleep deprivation or insomnia. Sleep disorders include obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy, movement disorder (such as restless leg syndrome), epilepsy

Night terror affects everyone but it can often occur more in young kids as well as adults.

Children’s late-night terrors:

What You Should Know. Parents often experience a range of intense emotions when their child experiences a sleep terrors. These feelings can include fear, confusion, helplessness, and frustration.

If your child is experiencing night terrors, it’s important to keep in mind the following:

  • Night terrors are not nightmares. Nightmares are generally associated with fear and anxiety after the person has woken up. Night terrors occur during sleep and often cause the person to scream or cry out. They may also experience intense terror or fear while they experience night terrors.
  • Night Terrors don’t happen during deep sleep and children won’t remember them in the morning. They’re actually happening when a child is experiencing stage four or REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep which is when dreams occur.
  • Your child may be confused, disoriented, and even belligerent or aggressive when experiencing night terrors. You can help by gently guiding them back to their beds, reassuring them that they’re safe, and staying with them until they fall back to sleep.

Night terrors in adolescents

The horrors of the night in adolescence

Despite the lack of detailed evidence, the frequency of nightmares in children over the age of 12 seems to below. Most teenagers with nightmares experienced them when they were younger, and overcame these episodes as they grew older. According to one study, only 4% of parasomnia 4, such as night terrors, persist after puberty. New night terrors in young people may be associated with trauma or mental disorder 5.

In some social situations of this age, such as sleepovers or summer camps, a young man with a history of nightmares may experience some anxiety or confusion. It may be helpful to visit a doctor to identify triggers or other health-promoting conditions.

Night terrors in adults

Adults with childhood nightmares may have recurring episodes caused by stress, lack of sleep, or the development of another sleep disorder. As with adolescents, sleep deprivation in adults can be especially alarming due to the increased risk of harming oneself or other family members if violent behavior occurs during an episode. Very often teenagers and adults remember the details of the night terror.

Diagnosis

Night terrors in adults are sometimes difficult to diagnose because they occur irregularly. Also, people often don’t remember what they had.

However, if you think it might be you or someone else has seen it, get an appointment with a paramedic.

They may ask you to keep a sleep diary for a short time to help you get rid of sleep or other problems. If you are sleeping with a partner, it may help you to provide detailed information about this episode.

To limit the range of possible causes, your doctor will most likely ask:

  • about your medical history
  • if you use materials
  • if you have a family history of sleepwalking, nightmares or other sleep problems
  • if you have encountered stressful situations at work or at home
  • any mental health symptoms you have experienced
  • if you have ever had treatment for mental health problems
  • if you have respiratory symptoms related to sleep problems
  • if you take any medications or use natural remedies, especially for sleep
  • Even if they rule out all possible health reasons, including other sleep disorders, they can refer you to a sleep specialist.

Sleep research

sleep quality

Sleep research, or polysomnography, involves spending the night in a sleep lab and taking various measures during sleep. At night, brain waves, the level of pain in the blood, heart rate, breathing, and movements in the eyes and legs were measured, and the patient was filmed. Your doctor will review the recording and evaluate several aspects of each sleep behavior. A normal condition may indicate irregular breathing, never indicating sleep apnea, or sleep disturbance for other reasons, such as restless legs syndrome.

Treatment

In the most unlikely event of insomnia, treatment is not required. Sleep terror causes injury or disruption to a child with sleep terror. Treatment generally involves improving safety as well as removing the cause or triggers. Treatments may include:

  • changing sleep environment
  • using relaxation techniques to reduce stress and anxiety, such as meditation or yoga before bedtime
  • identifying triggers that cause sleep terrors episodes, including alcohol consumption in the evening hours or
  • caffeine intake
  • avoiding vigorous exercise within four hours of bedtime
  • establishing a regular sleep schedule, including weekends
  • cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to change irrational thoughts and beliefs that contribute to anxiety about sleep. The therapist will also help you develop strategies to reduce stress and increase relaxation.
  • pharmacological treatment is usually reserved for individuals who experience repeated night terrors or have difficulty sleeping. Benzodiazepines are sedatives that can be used to treat anxiety disorders. Side effects of these drugs include drowsiness, fatigue, and disorientation the next day.

Benzodiazepine is also often prescribed for short-term treatment of insomnia after an episode of night terror.

Your doctor may also prescribe the antidepressant medication, which can be effective in reducing night terror episodes. In some cases, a low dose of tricyclic antidepressant is prescribed for people who experience night terrors. This drug has been shown to increase deep sleep and reduce awakenings during the night.

In the treatment of insomnia in children

If your child experiences night terrors, it is important to ensure that there are no other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy or night terrors. If these conditions exist, they should be treated first before medications for severe anxiety and stress can take effect.

It is important not to punish a child who experiences night terrors because you will only make them more afraid of going back to sleep. If your experience night terrors, be sure to get enough rest and avoid sleeping medications or alcohol before bedtime.

See a doctor about night terrors

Most adults can outgrow sleep terrors without treatment, Symptoms are low in adolescents and adulthood. Generally speaking, if a person suffers from night terrors, they can seek medical treatment for them. A diagnosis usually comes through a referral to your doctor. Some tests are necessary for people suffering from sleep apnea, bedwetting and seizures. Referrals to a sleep doctor may be necessary in a sleep disorder case.

FAQ

excessive daytime sleepiness

At what age do night terrors stop?

Night terrors are a common experience for children under the age of 12, even up to 15 years.

They tend to stop as adults experience them less frequently and eventually go away completely around 25-30 years old.

In rare cases, sleep terrors episodes can persist into adulthood if they experienced severe stress or anxiety during their childhood which led to the development of this disorder.

How do I stop night terrors PTSD?

If you experience night terrors as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be effective in reducing the frequency and severity of these episodes. A therapist will help you develop strategies to reduce stress and increase relaxation. Benzodiazepines are sedatives that can be used to treat anxiety disorders. Side effects of these drugs include drowsiness, fatigue, and disorientation the next day. Benzodiazepine is also often prescribed for short-term treatment of insomnia after an episode of night terror.

How long do night terrors last?

Night terrors are a period of intense fear in which the person struggles to free themselves from an invisible attacker. They experience rapid breathing, confusion, and hallucinations during this phase. It usually lasts about 15-20 minutes until they fully wake up exhausted but unharmed with no memory of what happened.

How do I know if night terror?

If you experience intense fear during sleep, confusion, and hallucinations then it is likely that you are experiencing night terrors. It is common for these episodes to last about 15-20 minutes before the person fully wakes up exhausted but unharmed with no memory of what happened. If your experience night terrors, be sure to get enough rest and avoid sleeping medications or alcohol before bedtime.

What is the difference between a night terror and sleepwalking?

The key difference between night terrors and sleepwalking is that people who experience night terrors are usually fully conscious and aware of their surroundings. They may scream, cry, or kick during these episodes. People who experience sleepwalking are unaware of their surroundings during this phase and often travel to different rooms in the house, open doors, or even leave the house. They are usually still in deep sleep when they experience this phase and will have no memory of it once they wake up again.

Resources

  1. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pediatrics/behavioral-concerns-and-problems-in-children/sleep-problems-in-children
  2. https://familydoctor.org/condition/nightmares-and-night-terrors/
  3. https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article-abstract/122/6/e1164/68799/Sleep-Terrors-in-Children-A-Prospective-Study-of?redirectedFrom=fulltext
  4. https://pmj.bmj.com/content/77/906/244.abstract
  5. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2014/0301/p368.html

Rob Starr

The author of the blog is a vegan, scientist and naturopath. In his blog, {Name} dispels the most popular myths about health, provides nutritional advice, makes individual menus upon request, and answers in detail the most common questions, creating a separate post for them.

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