In A Better You

What’s All This About Night Terrors?

There are Significant Differences between Night Terrors vs Nightmares

Nightmares: occur in children at 3-6 years old, most commonly in the early morning hours, during the REM sleep stage, or rapid eye-movement stage. It’s the lighter phase of sleep, before the natural awakening time. Children usually will have a nightmare approximately once per month. This is the result of over-stimulation of the brain or metabolism before bedtime. Nightmare triggers are usually easily traced back to events like watching a horror movie, or a frightening event on television before going to sleep, or having an emotional experience like a funeral or death of a pet. Eating before bedtime can cause the body’s metabolism to speed up and trigger a nightmare.

Nightmares occur at any age, sometimes will recur often and have similar content. The dreamer will remember dreaming and retain some parts of the troublesome dream after waking up. They will not be disoriented, possibly fearful, and unable to go back to sleep. If the nightmare is recurring, it is recommended that the child or person of any age, begins to relax before bedtime. Reduce stress by listening to soothing music, white noise or natural sounds like ocean waves.

Before bedtime, plan ahead how to re-envision the dream. For example if the dreamer is being chased by a monster, they spend time seeing themselves as a warrior that successfully conquers the monster and protects others from harm. This is an empowerment process that creates a positive influence over the nightmare and often changes the dream outcome. The child’s fear of going to sleep and having another nightmare is reduced, the stress is eliminated and dreams become more pleasant. It is easier to recognize and find solutions for the nightmare vs night terror symptoms.

Night Terrors: What causes night terrors? There are several theories about what causes night terrors. The stages of the human sleep cycle occurs in different stages through-out the night. There are several transitions during sleep through stages of light sleeping brain patterns to deep sleep, when the greatest rest and healing occurs. Night terrors actually occur between sleep cycles, during transitions from light sleep to deep sleep and may continue during the deepest sleep phase. The dreamer will not remember the dream, panic, or behaviors they experience, as they are still sleeping during the behaviors.

The night terrors dreamer will often sit up suddenly while still asleep reacting with severe fear and anxiety. They may shout, scream or cry out, sometimes speaking incoherently, the breathing and heartbeat is quickened. It is common for sweating and thrashing around in terror, perhaps even getting out of bed and running around the bedroom or through-out the house. Children with night terrors often sleepwalk as well.

Even if their eyes are wide-open and full of fear, the dreamer is at least still partially asleep during a night terror experience. Also with night terror symptoms, they will not remember their terror, their behaviors or any mental images the next day.

These incidents can last from seconds to ten or twenty minutes, occurring once per week or more often. Suddenly the dreamer lies back down and relaxes, apparently going back into a lighter sleep phase and sleeps peacefully. We haven’t any known methods of how to stop night terrors during the actual incidents.

The good news is that most children will out-grow sleep terrors as they enter their teenage years. For the very few percent that do not, night terrors will be with them during adulthood.

Keeping a Person with Night Terrors Safe

Triggers, or causes of night terrors sometimes are due to extreme tiredness or fatigue. It is equally beneficial, if you see night terrors in children or night terrors in adults, to have them take a nap during the daytime, whenever possible, to reduce the night terrors symptoms.

Clear the bedroom and other areas from objects that can harm or trip a night terror dreamer during an episode. Lock interior and exterior doors, and place bells in doorways to alert others and episode is happening. As always, keep weapons locked up, remove sharp or unsafe objects, clear away electrical cords or other things that could be dangerous.

Relaxing before bedtime reduces stress triggers that build up into night terrors. At least 2-3 hours before bedtime, soak in a warm bath. Before bedtime, read or tell stories – not scary stories, even some fairytales are too troubling for bedtime. Make a puzzle , yoga stretches or meditation, listening to soft music and lowering lights all trigger the body and mind to be calm.

Using various essential oil treatments calm the child or adult, massage them into feet and hands, ot the back. Select pleasant fragrances proven to have anti-anxiety properties like aromatherapy essential oils in lavender, patchouli, valerian root and camomille fragrances. Use 20 drops of essential oils in a soaking bath at least 2 hours before bedtime, never just before going to bed.

Vaporizers placed out of reach in the bedroom, with 6 drops of Clary sage or tangerine essential oils produce natural calming and sedative properties through-out the night. This can solve some sleep disturbances in about two weeks of nightly use.

During the daytime, find ways to allow a child who experiences night terrors to talk about any fear or anxiety causing issues happening in their lives, but never just before bedtime.

Who is At-Risk for Night Terrors?

The most common age for night terrors is between the ages of 4 years to 12 years old. During this very anxious period of childhood development, kids have emotional issues they tend to keep very private. Infants and toddlers can have night terrors, but the occurrence is at a lower percent. Teenagers will often have night terrors if they experienced them at a younger age, and adults going through extreme life changes, such as post-traumatic syndrome, a violent crime or accident, extreme loss reaction or life changes can develop night terrors as well.

Night terrors typically occur in people of any age that have a sleep disturbance like sleep apnea, and chronic insomnia, and will often show symptoms of night terrors. Although parents are deeply upset when observing infant night terrors or toddler night terrors, as they go through symptom episodes of night terrors in babies, they make worry or panic, but night terrors in infants are not life threatening, and they do not remember them once awake. It is often very hard to awaken a dreamer during a night terror episode while in the deepest sleep stage. Do not startle night terrors children or night terrors adults. If they cannot be awakened by gentle means, wait for them to return to a restful sleep.

When Should a Doctor be Notified?

It is not necessary to make an appointment specially for night terrors treatment. During a typical well-ness appointment, mention the problem to your pediatrician or physician. The doctor can schedule testing for sleep apnea, one of night terrors causes, which requires an over-night stay in a sleep study center. The test is called a polysomnogram. It charts the brain waves, breathing, heart-rate and how legs and arm move during sleep.

Most doctors define night terrors as panic attacks during sleep because of the way the body’s systems react. Night terrors in kids need to be treated if they result in lack of healthful sleep, new symptoms of sleep deprivation can effect the well-being of adults and children

According to the night terrors definition, you can identify baby night terrors when they sit up abruptly at night, crying or screaming. Because they don’t speak and can’t explain what is happening to them, parents must observe behaviors. Care-givers must be able to recognize night terrors infants experience, a key is when they wake up in the morning perfectly fine because they don’t remember the fears they felt in the night.

Parents may need medical or psychological treatment to help them deal with the horrible night terrors baby is experiencing. It is helpful to make a list of questions about what are night terrors. Although the answers to what is a night terror will not help an inconsolable child in the middle of the night, it’s is a relief to know night terrors in toddlers are not life threatening, or even remembered the morning after. Parents will come to the understanding that the frantic crying is happening in their sleep state, they aren’t really conscious of what they are doing. A parasomnia is unwanted events that happen during sleep.

Adults with Night Terrors

The bad news for adults is this sleeping abnormality is genetically linked so many family members may be experiencing several symptoms all at the same time. Parents who experience the same problem have empathy and understanding for what their children are experiencing, but the lack of sleep will negatively affect the entire family. Many adults having night terrors also have a history of anxiety disorders, depressive disorders and/or Bipolar disorder. The opposite is true in children, there are no links between sleep terrors or mental disorders.

Adults who try to escape from or fight terrors in their sleep may injure themselves or others trying to help. Severe injury can occur when adults are unconscious and out of control. Their symptoms can cause problems in adult relationships. Often the embarrassment about what occurs while they are asleep is very damaging. Sleep terrors can occur anywhere during the sleep cycle in adults, and they sometimes remember what was happening to panic them in their sleep, though when they wake up they are disoriented and confused. Sometimes they do not know where they are. Because of the great danger or deep fright, it may take a long time to console or calm an adult when they awaken.

Observable Causes and Symptoms Include:

  • Fevers in children
  • Sudden noise or light
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Traveling
  • Head injuries or brain swelling
  • Some medications
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Pre-menstral cycles
  • Migraines
  • Hyperthyroidism

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 6.5 percent of children and only 2.2 adults have serious symptoms of night terrors. Parents can create a safe environment, be available to comfort children or their spouse when an event occurs, protect them from harm if sleep walking happens, and try to alleviate stress through some of the suggestions covered above.

The most important approach with a family member showing these symptoms, is to remain calm to help reduce the panic and continuation of terror events. It may be normal for parents to feel guilty when their children suffer, but in this case, knowing these episodes are occurring during deep sleep or semi-consciousness helps. It sounds like they are suffering, but they are not aware, and it is worth repeating – they will not remember when they wake up in the morning.

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