Any parent who has rushed in to their child in the midst of a Night Terror, will tell you that the experience is one they would rather forgo, just as much as it is for their child. The child may sit bolt upright, could thrash, swing punches, kick, and get out of bed and sleepwalk. He or she may appear terrified for their life and filled with dread.
They may be very difficult to console, seem as though they are awake when they are actually still in a sleep state, and their own heart is poounding harder than the parents. Night Terrors most commonly occur in the first few hours of sleep whereas nightmares on the other hand, may cause feelings of horror or fear and occur in the latter stage of sleep.
Night terrors usually occur between the ages of 4 and 12, and in adults they are much less common and usually occur between the ages of 20 to 30. In children, males seem to suffer more than females and in adults it would appear to be about 50/50.
Causes of Night Terrors?
The etiology (background or origin of causes) of night terrors may include (in no particular order):
- an underlying Generalised Anxiety Disorder
- a history of Post-Traumatic Stress
- sleep deprivation
- poor diet
- either constant stressors, or irregular weighty stressors
- having a family member with a history of night terrors, or sleep-walking
What can you do for Night Terrors?
- Keep a diary
Because Night Terrors usually occur in the first few hours of sleep, it is important to keep a diary that tracks the timing of events. Firstly, note the day’s activities and any stressful events, your diet for the day, any alcohol or drug use, and then note the hour of bedtime and what time the Night Terror occurs. Keep track for a week and you may notice patterns occurring.
Once you have established the usual time of the Night Terror or the number of hours that elapse from time of falling asleep to the Night Terror, set the alarm for 15 minutes prior to the anticipated Night Terror. Make sure that the ‘subject’ is properly woken up and is awake for about 15 minutes, and then encourage the person to return to sleep. The pattern breaks after 5 to 7 nights of being woken up so that the Night terrors disappear.
Sometimes the Night Terrors may not disappear if there is an unusual stress so simply start over again.
- Do not attempt to wake the person during a Night Terror and some experts recommend not touching the person either. Use a soothing tone of voice with lots of reassurances of safety and protection, particularly for children.
- Practise Relaxation or Meditation and learn how to manage anxiety
- Get treatment for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (if you have it, or suspect you have it)
- Pay attention to your diet, alcohol intake, and activities so that life and sugar intake is balanced with work, rest, play, food, water and exercise.
- Give up caffeine, chocolate, and books or movies that are action-packed or scary, especially before you go to bed. Beds are only for two things and that’s love-making or sleeping, so no books or TV in bed.
- Follow a ritual at bedtime where you prepare for bed at the same time each night, enjoy a warm shower and let your falling body temperature help you to relax and become drowsy as you practise a relaxation in bed, and tell yourself as you are drifting off to sleep: “Sweet dreams and a deep sleep are mine tonight. I wake refreshed and relaxed each morning.”