Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, are a sleep disorder that can be both frightening and disruptive. They’re characterized by sudden and intense episodes of fear, panic, or agitation during sleep. These episodes typically occur during non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, usually within the first few hours after falling asleep.
Night terrors can be distressing for both the person experiencing them and any observers, such as family members or roommates. While they are most commonly associated with children, adults can also experience night terrors. They’re often associated with medical and even congenital causes that are completely out of our control, which is why learning to deal with them is crucial to recovery.
What Are Night Terrors?
Night terrors are episodes of intense fear or terror that occur during sleep. They are different from nightmares as they typically occur during non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, usually within the first few hours of falling asleep. Usually, people who experience night terrors have no memory of the events when they wake up, while nightmares are often vividly remembered. Also, during a night terror, the person having them may exhibit physical symptoms, opposite to nightmares.
The symptoms of night terrors can vary, but common signs include someone suddenly awakening from sleep with intense fear with no memory of the episode upon waking. More physical signs are screaming, crying, rapid breathing, accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling, and difficulty controlling muscle movements.
Causes of Night Terrors
Some of the most common theories about the origin of night terrors blame genetics, with a family history of sleep disorders increasing the likelihood of experiencing them, or even medical conditions (like sleep apnea, fever, and migraines) as the root of the problem when it comes to night terrors.
Others may even argue that lifestyle choices and habits are the factors when it comes to developing the disorder: sleep deprivation, irregular sleep schedules, stress, and even medication, especially those that affect the central nervous system, have been linked to the occurrence of night terrors. Understanding the cause of sleep terrors goes a long way to manage and overcome their undesired effects.
Managing Night Terrors
Although finding the primary cause of Night Terrors is key to reducing the symptoms and beating the disorder altogether, here are some general tips that can help you, or anyone you know when it comes to dealing with them.
- Create a Consistent Sleep Routine: Establish a regular sleep schedule to ensure you get enough restorative sleep. Avoid sleep deprivation, as fatigue can trigger night terrors.
- Reduce Stress: Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to manage stress and anxiety, which can exacerbate night terrors.
- Limit Stimulants: Avoid caffeine and stimulants close to bedtime, as they can interfere with sleep.
- Ensure a Comfortable Sleep Environment: Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet. Consider using a nightlight if it helps reduce anxiety.
- Medication: In severe cases, a healthcare provider may prescribe medication to manage night terrors. These medications are typically used as a last resort and under close supervision.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Therapy can help individuals manage underlying anxiety and stress, which may contribute to night terrors.
- Safety Precautions: If you or your child experience night terrors, make sure the sleep environment is safe to prevent injuries during episodes.
Night terrors can be a distressing experience, but with proper understanding and management, they can be minimized or even eliminated. If you or a loved one are experiencing night terrors regularly, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying medical conditions and develop a tailored treatment plan. Remember that a supportive and consistent sleep routine can go a long way in managing night terrors and improving overall sleep quality.