Sleep Terror

Sun, Jul 5, 2009

ParasomniasSleep Terror

A night terror, also known as a sleep terror or pavor nocturnus, is a parasomnia disorder characterized parasomnia by extreme terror and a temporary inability to regain full consciousness. The subject wakes abruptly from slow-wave sleep, with waking usually accompanied by gasping, moaning, or screaming. It is often impossible to awaken the person fully, and after the episode, the subject normally settles back to sleep without waking. A night terror can rarely be recalled by the subject. They typically occur during non-rapid eye movement sleep. (Wikipedia)

Night Terror Disorder of sleep is usually characterized by terrifying dreams far worse than a typical nightmare.

Symptoms of Sleep Terror

Sleep terror disorder is also known as “night terror.” The following symptoms are typical for this condition:

·         Regular occurrence of sudden awakening from a night sleep, usually happening during the beginning of the main dream accompanied with a scream of panic.

·         Person is experiencing strong fear and shows certain signs of rapid breathing, tachycardia, and sweating during each sleep terror incident.

·         Sleep terror victims can’t usually recall their dreams by demonstrating the total memory loss.

·         As a rule, sleep terrors, if they would happen in real life, reflect clinically significant impact in educational, social, occupational, or other important areas of person’s events, completely opposite to what actually had happened. Medical condition of sleep terror is irrelevant.

Usually, you can tell if a person is having a night terror by screams. Imagine to have a sleep partner who is prone to this disorder. Other symptoms of sleep terror include:

Breathing fast


Rapid heart pulses

Sign of fear or panic

Large pupils

Confusion when eyes are fully open

Night Terrors vs Nightmares

Night terrors and nightmares are completely different. In general, nightmares are just dreams that a person can clearly recall when awake. Night terrors, on the contrary, are not dreams. Night terror is a very disturbing sleep disorder when a person becomes terrified during a sleep episode having no  memory of the event.

What usually happening during a night-terror episode is that the person is partially awaken, screaming, moaning, or out of breath. Most of the time, the person is not fully awaken, nor really calmed. It becomes a difficult task to wake someone up during a night terror. When the person is left alone, most likely he or she will simply go back to sleep without awakening. The person who experienced night terror when awaken or left to sleep has no recollection of the night terror episode whatsoever.

Who are Most Prone to Night Terrors?

·         Night terrors are most popular in children two to eight years old, however, can occur at any age. Night terrors distress about 3% of all children.

·         According to sleep studies, night terror events usually happen during the first hour or two of sleep, and last for one or two weeks. After that, they seem to disappear.

·         Fortunately, most children will go over night terrors.

·         The number of night terror episodes usually diminish after age 10.

·         However, not everyone outgrows night terrors. Adults can experience this problem also.

·         It has been reported that many older people complain of having night terrors when they sleep on their back.

What Causes Night Terrors?

No one can definitively say what causes night terrors. Let’s see some possibilities of causing night terror:

·         In children: high fever, emotional stress, or lack of sleep.

·         Study has shown that night terrors can be inherited.

·         In adults, lack of sleep, emotional tension, an alcohol, and stress seem to be responsible.

What Can You Do During a Night Terror?

·         Do not try to wake up the person.

·         Do not get involved. Let the person scream it out.

·         Do not try to hold the person having night terror. It may cause more confusion and anxiety.

·         Try to speak calmly to the person and tell him or her that you are right here.

·         Calm the person down with words, not with actions.

How Can Night Terrors be Treated?

As mentioned before, most children will outgrow night terrors. In the meantime, night terrors are mostly treated by:

  • Kindness and comfort
  • Removing anything around that can potentially be harmful to a person
  • Refrain from loud movements and/or voices that might frighten the person even more.
  • Some family doctors may advise counselling or psychotherapy. Others may prescribe Benzodiazepine medications, such as Diazepam or the over-the-counter Benadryl.


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