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What Are Night Terrors?

Night terrors happen to a person when they’re asleep, often causing them to experience intense fear, scream, or even sleepwalk. While they are more common in children, around 2% of adults experience night terrors at some point during their life. So, what do you need to know about this condition?

Causes and symptoms

Night terrors are considered parasomnia, a sleep disorder where abnormal behavior disrupts sleep. Some causes include stress, sleep deprivation, and untypical sleep schedules. 

There can also be underlying conditions that lead to night terrors. Some examples include certain medications, alcohol consumption, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea or other disordered breathing, and mental health conditions like depression or anxiety.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, during a night terror, you might:

  • Sit up in bed 
  • Scream, yell, or cry 
  • Flail around 
  • Stare blankly 
  • Breathe quickly 
  • Not remember what happened 
  • Be difficult to wake up 
  • Be confused when woken up

How night terrors differ from nightmares

When someone has a nightmare, they may be able to remember what happened once they wake up. During a night terror, however, people stay asleep and often don’t remember anything from the episode. During nightmares, there isn’t usually a physical or verbal symptom, a key component of night terrors.

Resources for recurring night terrors

If you are experiencing recurring night terrors, there are strategies to try at home to keep yourself safe and hopefully prevent more episodes. They include the following:

If you are experiencing recurring night terrors, there are strategies to

  • Get on a sleep schedule – Do your best to go to bed and wake up at the same time. This will help ensure you’re getting enough sleep. Also, try to limit noise or other distractions while you sleep.
  • Start a nighttime routine – This can help calm you down before bed. Instead of scrolling on your phone or watching TV, read a book, take a bath, color, or do another activity that’s relaxing to you. 
  • Make your space safe – If your night terrors happen frequently and involve sleepwalking or lots of movement, make your space safe to prevent injuries. Lock doors and windows, block stairways with a gate, and secure any sharp objects so they aren’t easy to reach.

Possible treatments

Treatment isn’t usually necessary for occasional night terrors, but if night terrors become violent or prevent you from getting enough sleep, it’s time to seek treatment. Talk with your doctor about your experiences so they can help. 

You can also get in touch with our team here at Valley Oaks Health to address any underlying causes of night terrors, like anxiety or depression.

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