Our children are our future. They are the ones who will carry on our legacies and more importantly mark the survivability of the human race. Because of this, humans have an innate protective nature when it comes to kids. One of the hardest things for a parent, or an adult that is responsible for a child, is watching them go through something difficult and having no power to help them. Night terrors are one such instance in which a caregiver can feel powerless.
Night Terrors Vs. Nightmares
Of all of the parasomnias that have been discussed in this series, night terrors are the first that is experienced mostly by children but it is quite rare. It is estimated that around 6% of children under 13 experience night terrors. While adults can experience them too it is even more uncommon at around 1%. A night terror episode is sometimes difficult to distinguish from a regular nightmare but there are major differences:
- Someone experiencing a night terror will be difficult if not impossible to wake up.
- Night terrors occur in the first 2- 3 hours of sleep while nightmares occur later on in the night.
- A person does not remember night terrors. Nightmares, however, can be remembered in detail.
- Someone experiencing night terrors is often inconsolable.
Typically, children will outgrow sleep terrors by their teenage years. However, a small percentage of adults can continue having them or develop new episodes. Night terrors are often the result of other things that may be happening in life. Stress is one of the most related causes. People who are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can develop symptoms. They may also be the manifestation of other sleep disorders or occur along with other parasomnias such as sleepwalking.
They may also be the manifestation of other sleep disorders or occur along with other parasomnias such as sleepwalking. These parasomnias often occur when the individual is brought out of deep delta wave sleep. This is the stage of sleeping when it is most difficult to wake up. Which is why sleepwalkers and night terror sufferers are hard to arouse. Night terrors can also be confused with confusional arousal disorder when a person wakes suddenly in a confused and often terrified state.
Some contributing factors may include:
- Genetics. Some studies have shown that night terror can run in families
- Nocturnal asthma
- Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- Medications that affect the nervous system
- Nocturnal Enuresis (bedwetting)
- Full bladder
- Strong phobias
Fighting the Terror
As difficult as it is to watch someone experiencing a night terror, they are not typically dangerous. The most important thing to do in these situations is to have patience and be supportive. If however, the individual starts putting himself or others in harm’s way during these attacks or the individual’s health or well-being starts suffering in other ways such as the inability to focus or shows signs of fatigue during the day, seeking treatment is advised. Getting to the root of the cause is the most important step in any treatment plan. Treatments may include psychotherapy or medications. Most of the time these episodes are just a phase that the person will grow out of.
Getting to the root of the cause is the most important step in any treatment plan. Treatments may include psychotherapy or medications. Most of the time these episodes are just a phase that the person will grow out of. It may be difficult but you are not helpless.