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
Banishing Night Terrors And Nightmares: A Breakthrough Program to Heal the Traumas That Shatter Peaceful Sleep