Understanding and Dealing with Night Terrors

Posted on January 19, 2012

It’s almost time for bed – but terror is striking your heart because you know that there are horrifying images and perceptions waiting around the corner of deep sleep.

Or you may be plagued by nightmares that surface just as you drift off out of the waking world. Either way, you are now switching through the channels on the television, putting off that inevitable moment when sheer exhaustion takes over.

If this sounds like your nightly routine, you may be suffering from one of two sleeping issues that affect many people worldwide in all walks of life and of all ages – recurring nightmares or night terrors. There has been some confusion that the two are one and the same, however that is a misconception.

Nightmares and Night Terrors occur independently of each other in different stages of sleep. Night terrors happen in the stage just before REM sleep. It is an extremely deep stage of the sleep process in which waking is difficult. When a night terror occurs and the sleeper does awaken, they are panicked and fearful. Nightmares happen during REM sleep where it is actually easier to wake up and have recall.

This will show the distinct difference between the two as well as methods of treatment and will hopefully make it easier to tell what is going on when the nighttime hours arrive and the darkness falls.

No one should be too afraid to sleep nor should they think that something evil is trying to harm them. The episodes in and of themselves are not serious however people have harmed themselves either by walking around and falling or running into something dangerous. They can happen at any age for several different reasons.

The good news is there are methods to deal with night terrors that can bring a much needed good night’s sleep.

What Exactly Are Night Terrors?

There are many misconceptions about night terrors, also known as “pavor nocturnus” and “sleep terror disorder” which need to be addressed. The most common mistake is thinking they are the same thing as nightmares.

Nightmares most often occur when the body is fully asleep and night terrors are in the deepest stage of non-REM sleep. This means that while the body is in the state of shutting down, the mind is still capable of chemical triggers or ‘misfires’. Stress can cause these misfires as well as lack of sleep or a fever.

Night terrors in and of themselves are not going to harm someone, but that isn’t to say there is no danger. People have been harmed from actions performed during a night terror, so if this is something that is a regular occurrence precautions should be taken to prevent self-harm.

The numbers show that children are most likely to suffer from night terrors, especially boys between the ages of 5 and 7. It is important to note that these are just the average numbers – girls also suffer from night terrors and certainly no age is immune to them.

Night terrors are not as common after the age of seven or eight, and generally adults that experience them have factors such as stress or in some cases, alcohol and drugs.

Emotional distress can certainly bring it about and this is why PTSD is an initial diagnosis in the cases of veterans suffering night terrors.

During the stage of sleep where night terrors occur (stage 4, non-REM), the person is actually harder to awaken than when in REM sleep. This is because the one experiencing them often believes they are awake at the time and yet when they actually do wake up they have no recall of doing any of this. They may recall images, but the common factor is that they awaken with an unexplainable rear that seems overwhelming.

By far, the worst misconception about night terrors is that they are some kind of punishment or attack from some evil force or the ‘devil’. This type of thinking held mankind back for many centuries – it served no good purpose then or now. This is a condition that is not uncommon and while not everything is known about the cause, all sleep studies indicate that it is a brain misfire and certainly not an attack from unproven entities.

Symptoms of Night Terrors

The symptoms of night terrors differ from those of nightmares and other sleep disorders in a variety of ways. Night terrors are distinguished first by the stage of sleep in which they occur. Night terrors happen in the state just before REM sleep (around an hour and a half after going to bed). They are often awakened abruptly, but not fully, in a state of extreme distress. Sufferers describe fits of screaming, being inconsolable, unable to have a real recall of what frightened them other than vague, shadowy images. The person appears to be awake but their responses to commands and physical restraint don’t seem to be registering. They will often thrash around anywhere from a couple of minutes to nearly a half hour in extreme cases.

The feelings upon waking, or partially waking from this state are very similar to the symptoms of a panic attack – rapid heart rate, quickened breathing, difficulty catching breath,and sweating. Some are able to have total recall of the images and feelings experienced while others have little to no recollection other than an irrational feeling of extreme fear. It is not known why this is the case other than the old adage of each person being different and reacting to situations differently.

What is interesting to note is that there doesn’t seem to be a correlation with the images people experience during night terrors and things they are afraid of in the waking world. In other words, a person who is terrorized by nighttime images of spiders or snakes may not necessarily fear these things when they are awake. It has also been noted that this sleep disorder, like many others, tends to run in families.

Treatments for Night Terrors

Far more serious than simple bad dreams, night terrors is a condition that inflicts severe and long - lasting physical and psychological damage. The afflicted can be children or adults, and will exhibit such symptoms as violent kicking, striking out, and/or frenzied screaming during the sleep cycle. They may even leave their beds and exit the home without waking, and yet have no knowledge of this behaviour the next morning. Understandably, the impact upon sufferers' parents, siblings, and spouses can be devastating, leaving them fearful and exhausted and making relationships difficult. Unfortunately, there has been a tremendous amount of conflicting and often contradictory literature on this subject, and treatment options have been of only limited value.

As of now there is no set cure for night terrors. There are however ways to treat it if you or someone who lives with you is suffering. First of all if it is a child, there are certain routines that can be established that have met with some success.

Since there is a correlation of emotional distress and these episodes, the best road to go is to make bedtime as stress free as possible. It should be a set time each night of going to bed with rituals of stories or whatever makes the child comfortable. The room of course should have anything that can cause harm removed and made to keep the child as safe as possible if a night terror occurs. Hugging is okay but understand the child may resist any physical contact – it should never be forced. Yelling at them to wake up will often not work either and can cause more distress when they do come out of it. There should also be as little sleep disturbance as possible, so the environment needs to be quiet and settled down.

Dealing with the disorder as an adult is basically the same thing – keep the room safe in case an episode happens and keep the sleeping environment calm and peaceful. Some have had success with ‘white noise’ sounds or relaxing music. Whatever works to get the mind and body as stress free as possible is encouraged.

In some cases, night terrors are symptomatic of another disorder, so certainly if a person should seek medical advice if they are experiencing recurring episodes of two or more a month. Most often they can be treated without medication, however if the cases are so severe that every aspect of the person’s life is affected, tricyclic antidepressants have been prescribed to alleviate symptoms. It’s important to stress that medication for this disorder is always the last resort and only when all other avenues have been explored.

So instead of seeing what is playing On Demand in the dark hours of the night to stave off sleep, educate yourself on what night terrors are and how to get yourself to a restful night’s sleep. You don’t have to be afraid of the dark!

Written by Angela Sangster, Copyright 2012 TrueGhostTales.com


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6 Responses to “Understanding and Dealing with Night Terrors”
  1. Ashley says:

    I find this article very educational. But my question is what’s the difference between a night terror and an actual spirit/ghost haunting you? I have never ever had a night terror before nor have I actually SEEN a ghost. Yes I have felt at many times as though I’m being watched that I’m not the only one in the room. Just a few months ago I was reading and dozed off I awoke with a start and I swear someone whispered loudly BOO. I opened my eyes wide and I couldn’t move. It felt like I was pinned down, I was so scared because I felt like something mean or cruel was near but I never saw anything. I prayed the Lords Prayer and instantly I could move, it was like a load lifted off of me, my heart was racing I was so freaked out. Its been almost 6 months and I still remember everything like it just happened. Thank God it hasn’t ever happened again. By the way all this happened during the day not at night. So like I said how can u tell the difference really? Sorry this was so long! :)

  2. Kasey says:

    Ashley, what you experienced is another phenomenon that is yet again entirely separated from both nightmares and night terrors. You experienced sleep paralysis, which is a fairly common occurrence and quite often associated with demonic presence or just a ghostly visit. Simply put, it’s a sign that your body is not moving smoothly through the cycles of sleep. Sleep paralysis always happens when someone dozes off for a moment and is suddenly wakened. There’s nothing paranormal about this condition. If you wish to read about sleep paralysis, I highly recommend this article on WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/sleep-paralysis.

    This article regarding night terrors and nightmares is very appreciated. I know from personal experience that the terms are used inter-changeably and it’s best for the distinction to be made so that everyone understands there is a difference.

  3. Marty P. says:

    Misguided notion that sleep paralysis is harmless sleep chemistry run amok. Wishful thinking at best .. unfortunately we are so far down the rabbit-hole in our misguided ways that it’s doubtful we’ll come to consensus on this. Too much weight (pardon the pun) has been applied to the “it’s all in your head” hypothesis.

    Dr. Al Cheyne (Transforming the Alien) father of the sleep chemistry run amok theory is or was willing to admit off the record that it was just so much “PhD gobbledy-gook”. Tell the hundreds of other-wise healthy Hmong refugees who succumbed to SUNDS (Google Hmong +SUNDS) that sleep paralysis is merely one’s imagination run wild.

    SP is definitely not normal and not to be conveniently dismissed out-of-hand as “normal”. It’s as far from normalcy as one can get without leaving the planet (contrary to popular misconception).

  4. Kasey says:

    I think you need to reread what is on this page, Marty. The article itself is about the difference between nightmares and night terrors. My response was to Ashley’s query regarding her experience. As I stated, sleep paralysis is what she experienced, not a haunting nor a demonic presence. No one has stated that sleep paralysis is normal, but it was stated that it is not in any way PARAnormal.

    • Marty P. says:

      I think the distinction to be made is: whether it’s internally or externally manifest. The whole manifest of “consistently inconsistent” hallmark phenomena associated with classic SP. Perhaps an inventory is in order .. an inventory of (the) associated phenomenology – imagined or real. Inability to breathe – that’s pretty high on the list of particularly disturbing phenomenology. Evidently it’s not that you are incapable of breathing – but rather (that) you lack the requirement to breathe and are in effect: in a different mode-of-operation. One that does not require (entail) breathing .. consequently breathing is foreign in effect. Your requirement for breathing has been suspended. You are not short-of-breath if and when you “come out of it”. This speaks volumes to the paranormal quality of even the most superficial of true SP episodes. You may well be able to move your head initially – and you invariably do – this, in great big circles. Fearing for life and limb – one is compelled to explore any and all traditional mobility-avenues left at one’s disposal in the vain attempt to snap out from under whatever spell one has found themselves in. One can move their head freely – but no traditional vocalization can be effected. Mute – for all intents and purposes. Try as one may .. there is no “voice issuance.” This absolute muting speaks volumes (pardon the pun) of a paranormal influence. Not a squeek issues forth – try as you might. Not one peep. A very disturbing state to find one-self in. It would not be too big a stretch to suggest that breathing, talking and movement itself are — dare I say — spiritual endeavour. And in the geiss of SP .. these qualities have taken their leave or have otherwise been placed in “safe mode”. “Unsafe mode” – I would call it. And this state-of-affairs strikes lightning-fast. Nothing gradual about it. The battle is over before a retaliatory shot is fired.

      Interestingly, red large LED-style bedside clocks have been implicated. The counting or flipping of digits adopts a particularly sinister quality to it. That the partitioning-of-time as potential currency-of-the-Paranormal would not or should not require too deep a stretch of credulity – in the study of things paranormal (Fortean study). Also, that the clock with a certain measure of consistency displays identical digits .. 3:33 is reported more than just a few times. Same with 2:22 and 4:44. One might investigate “3:33 the true witching hour?” online.

      A final observation; people often report extreme buzzing sounds. I would advance that this corresponds to the buzzing of flies .. no shortage of them. Is it possible it’s a psychic interloper from the animal kingdom? The collective psyche of untold millions of no-longer-extant common flies? The fruit-fly DNA is similar to human DNA on any number of levels. Growth factors are missing (thankfully). That this phenomenon is an incursion within the DNA hyper-dimension. (And) ultimately; that this phenomenon is neither wholly internal nor wholly external but rather a strange amalgam of the two – and constitutes a greater networking and inter-play than we previously entertained as extant.
      Nature’s internet in effect .. we are information gathering work-stations and they are the servers and keepers of the main database known as the Akashic Record. And that people reporting having seen their life “flash before their eyes” in near-death situations
      does not necessarily equate to a final grand-finale review for the “soon-to-be-deceased’s” benefit. But rather it’s a cosmic upload – way outside your control – way outside your immediate control and may well speak to “cosmic accountability”. Which is not a very popular thought in this “post-modern” society. (Oh well).

      And it’s no great stretch to place one foot in the “here-after” camp (as we stand here). Humans are living, breathing entities – to be sure – but we have integral elements which do not fit the “life criterion”. Hair, nails, teeth, epidermis, cornea and potentially bones or some element of bone. These are all non-vasculated. They can’t repair or reproduce – they consume no energy – they generate no waste. Immortal in effect. Non-living at any rate.

      So whether we can read minds – or not. Whether we can levitate chairs – or not. We still have perhaps both feet firmly planted in the Paranormal Firmament. Evidently all this through “Cosmic Design.”

      Trust this (introduction) as sentient and not particularly unreasonable especially given the particularly UNreasonable parameters of Sleep Paralysis and associated Night Terrors.

      One might consider conducting an online literature survey for (“SP” and “Jesus”). That there exists no shortage of online anecdote where people find remedy through appeal for Divine Intervention. I’ll leave it to the reader to read past some of the grammatical short-comings in these re-tellings and see that indeed Jesus’s name keeps popping up and mere mention (mentally) of JC – effectively brings an otherwise intractable and singularly unpleasant state-of-affairs to an abrupt end. Again, it does not require a particularly huge stretch of credulity to suggest this also speaks large and loud to the spiritual slash paranormal slash cosmic-quality of it all.

      Safe to suggest; the citizen journalist worth his or her journalistic salt will see there as not being too many available hairs-to-split .. especially in light of the mounting body of
      super-high strangeness .. yet consistent .. anecdote.

      As PhD Dave Hufford mentions .. one not-insignificant, eye-brow raising issue is: how has this phenomenon been erased from our modern cultural repertoire? Strange metrics – that’s for sure.

  5. Ashley says:

    Thanks Kasey for answering my question….it has really been weighing on me. I hope your right that it was just a form of sleep poralisis. I really really don’t want to have to think it means the worst, a demonic present. If a ghost/spirit wanted a simple drive by hello then fine with me but I’m telling you it really felt like I was almost being picked on, to scare me. I’m just glad that it was a one time thing and hopefully it wont happen again. Thanks again Kasey!

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