Night terrors can be distressing not only to the sufferer but also to anyone observing or trying to help. Victims of night terrors may appear severely upset, terrified and even be screaming with fright. Although confused and upset, any efforts to comfort are futile as the sufferer is unable to escape from the horrifying reality of their dream world.
Night terrors are not the same as dreams as they happen during Deep Sleep. They are more likely to occur during the first third of the night during Stages 3 or 4 sleep. Because the sufferer is deeply asleep, they are unlikely to recall the experience in the morning. They do not respond easily to efforts to wake them or any attempts at communication. If they are woken, they may be disorientated and have little memory of the content of their dream or their experience.
Some sufferers are more distressed from being woken than being left alone. There are reports that the wakening leaves them partially immersed in their trauma. Most traumas last up to half an hour but some may go on longer. Children usually grow out of night terrors but some take longer and can cause the child to be fearful of sleep or go on to suffer other sleep problems.
Night Terror is known as a Parasomnia. These are behaviours that disrupt sleep and are more common in childhood. Parents and children are often understandably frightened by the experience and feel helpless and confused. Most people find that once they understand what is happening they feel reassured and the problem resolves with age.
There is a suggestion that Night Terrors may be related to stress and this is not always easy to recognise in children. Being unable to express worries or being under pressure may make the mind use sleep as a way of expressing distress.
Experts advise making sure that sufferers have enough sleep and try to identify any stressful factors in their life. Disruptive sleep may lead to Sleep Deprivation and consequently more time will be spent in the sleep state that is related to the disorder.
Alcohol and drugs should be avoided as these interfere with the normal balance between each sleep stage. Alcohol and other imbalances in daily life may also affect sleep quality and it is important to look at any other causes.
Night Terrors are alarming for parents who feel helpless when their desire to comfort may appear to do more harm than good. By trying to understand the condition and making sure that the child is safe and that any other problems in their life are recognised, they may find reassurance in the fact that most children grow out of Night Terrors unharmed.