Documenting & Researching Night Terrors

Night Terros: the explanation in a Nut Shell

What is it?

Sleep terrors is also called “night terrors.” It is a parasomnia. A parasomnia involves undesired events that come along with sleep.

In a typical episode, you will sit up in bed and pierce the night with a “blood-curdling” scream or shout. This scream can include kicking and thrashing. You may say or shout things that others are unable to understand. You will also have a look of intense fear with eyes wide open and heart racing. You may also sweat, breathe heavily and be very tense. At times, you may even bolt out of bed and run around the house. This response is more common in adults. It may also lead to violent actions.

Individuals having an episode of sleep terrors will not respond to voices and can be hard to wake up. Once they do wake up, they will be very confused. They may not know where they are or what is going on. Most often, they will not have any memory of what took place. At times, they may recall brief bits of a dream. This dream will likely involve great danger or fright. It can take a long time to comfort the patient once the episode is over.

It most often occurs in the first third of the time that you are asleep. This is during the slow-wave cycle of sleep. Episodes in adults can occur at any time in the sleep cycle. Adults are also more likely to recall a dream that was a part of the event.

Serious and even deadly injury can occur. Attempts to escape from bed or to fight can result in harm to the patient or others. Individuals may be embarrassed by the sleep terrors. This can greatly affect their relationships with others.

Who gets it?

It is more common in children and affects males and females equally. It may affect as many as 6.5% of all children. It tends to begin when a child is four to 12 years old. Children with sleep terrors will often talk in their sleep and sleepwalk.

In rare cases, it can begin in adulthood. Overall, only about 2.2% of adults have it. Very few people over the age of 65 have sleep terrors.

There is a strong genetic and family link. It can occur in several members of the same family.

Many adults who have sleep terrors are also likely to have a history of one of the following:

* Bipolar disorder
* Some depressive disorders
* Anxiety disorders

It is unclear how closely it may be linked to these mental disorders in adults. In children, there does not seem to be any connection between mental disorders and sleep terrors.

Episodes of sleep terrors and sleepwalking share many of the same causes. These include the following:

* Sleep deprivation
* Hyperthyroidism (overproduction of thyroid hormones)
* Migraine headaches
* Head injury
* Encephalitis (brain swelling)
* Stroke
* The premenstrual period
* Bloated stomach
* Physical or emotional stress
* Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
* Other sleep-related disorders or events
* Travel
* Sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings
* Some medications
* Alcohol use and abuse
* Noise or light
* Fevers in children

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