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May 7, 2012 at 11:02 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

A Closer Look at Night Terrors

By Brad Plaggemars More Blogs by This Author

Hello and welcome to Mental Marvels-where the focus is brain behavior and mental phenomenons.

Today I thought that I would examine something that has always interested me: night terrors. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to know more about night terrors. What causes them, who is prone to them, and so on. Most people have heard of them, have had them, or knows someone who has experienced them. First off, what are night terrors?

Defining Night Terrors

MayoClinic.com defines night terrors or sleep terrors as "episodes of fear, flailing and screaming while asleep." Some people get night terrors and nightmares confused with each other. Nightmares are simply dreams that are frightening or scary. Night terrors, however, are not dreams. A person having a night terror suddenly wakes up in a terrified state. Night terrors, unlike nightmares, pose a potential threat to themselves and those around them.

Both adults and children are prone to night terrors, but they are more common in children ages 3 to 5. Night terrors usually last for about 15 minutes. The person undergoing the night terror may seem awake, but he or she is confused and will have difficulty communicating. Their eyes may be open, but the person is usually still asleep.

Night terrors occur in deep sleep or Stage 3 sleep. The person who experienced the night terror will not usually remember what happened the night before.

Symptoms

There are many symptoms associated with night terrors such as:

  • Sitting up in bed
  • Screaming or shouting
  • Kicking
  • Thrashing
  • Sweating, heavy breathing and a racing pulse
  • Difficult to awaken
  • The person may be inconsolable
  • Getting out of bed and running around the house
  • Violent behavior
  • Staring wide-eyed
  • Dilated pupils

When to Consult a Doctor

Night terrors aren't usually something to be really concerned about, however, if they get to a certain severity, talking to a doctor is recommended. Here's what to look for, before consulting a doctor:

  • Night terrors becoming more frequent
  • Routinely disrupting sleep and/or the sleep of family members
  • Fear of going to sleep arises
  • Dangerous behavior or injury ensues

Causes

What exactly causes night terrors? Night terrors can be caused by:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Fever (primarily in children)
  • Sleeping in an unfamiliar environment
  • Lights or noise

Treating Night Terrors

How is a person supposed to live with this frightening condition? Well, treatment for night terrors is not usually necessary. If you are a parent with a child who has night terrors, the best thing to do is to just wait it out. What you can do is gently restrain them and put them back to bed. The calmer you are, the better. Shaking and shouting at the child will only worsen the situation.

On the other hand, if the night terrors are tied to other health conditions, it is recommended that you get treatment for that condition. Medicine is not usually used to treat night terrors, but benzodiazepines and anti depressants could potentially help to reduce them.

For more information, please visit the websites listed at the bottom.

Sources:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/night-terrors/DS01016

http://www.sleepdex.org/nightterrors.htm

Photo Credit:

Tom Lin :3=

Alyssa L. Miller

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