THE BOTTOM LINE
- Night terrors are one of the most disruptive types of parasomnias
- They can cause injuries, be emotionally upsetting, and disturb sleep
- Focusing on improving your bedtime routine and sleep environment can reduce episodes
There is probably nothing worse than awakening to the sounds of panic caused by someone having a night terror. They occur during the first three stages of your sleep cycle and are considered to be the most disruptive type of NREM-related parasomnias.
What exactly is a night terror?
They’re just like nightmares, but interestingly enough they involve little to no dream activity. This makes sense considering they typically don’t occur during REM sleep. They generally occur as a person passes from stage 3 to 4 of sleep and are characterized by:
Thrashing or flailing
Rapid heart rate and breathing
Sweating or flushing of the skin
In rare cases, very violent behavior
Other ways they differ from regular nightmares:
Attempts made to wake the sleeper can intensify the experience.
No recollection of events after the episode has ended.
Episodes typically last between 30 seconds and 5 minutes, but in some cases (usually seen in children) episodes can continue for up to 90 minutes.
How common are night terrors?
They are very common among children up to the age of puberty. Research reports that nearly 40% of children and up to 3% of adults experience them.
Can they impact my health?
The most likely way they’ll impact your health is injuries caused by having no awareness of your surroundings (such as falling or colliding with objects). They can also be rather upsetting emotionally and disruptive to sleep.
What's the cause?
Like other parasomnias, research has found they are more likely to occur if there is a family history, but genetics are not the only cause. Other triggers can include:
Disrupted sleep schedule
Can night terrors be treated?
Usually children outgrow this parasomnia without the need for treatment. However, if they persist into adulthood, you might want to talk to your doctor about treatment plans including medication or therapy. In addition to this, it’s important to focus on having an excellent bedtime routine and sleep environment.