We all dream, and many of us have found ourselves awakened from a nightmare, able to remember parts of the story that unfolded in our unconscious. Night terrors, however, are a very different and more troubling type of sleep disturbance.
During a nightmare, the person is sleeping. The nightmare is a “story” with specific details and images. Nightmares usually happen in later stages of sleep, when dreaming occurs. Nightmares are common.
Night terrors, sometimes called sleep terrors, are different from nightmares in that people are asleep but often sitting up or standing, eyes open, screaming or yelling, and ready to fight or run because they are extremely frightened or aroused to action. Night terrors are uncommon.
Usually occurring in the early parts of sleep, about 45 to 60 minutes after falling asleep and before actual dreaming takes place, they are more common among children aged 4 to 12 but can last into adulthood. They may be triggered by stress, sleep deprivation, fever, or being in unfamiliar surroundings.
The sufferer will commonly be unable to remember what happened within minutes of the night terror and may have no memory of the incident at all. Night terrors are commonly paired with other conditions, such as sleep apnea, migraines, or restless legs syndrome.
While usually not serious, night terrors can lead to sleep loss. People may strain vocal chords from screaming or hurt themselves while thrashing. They may also disrupt other people in the household.
Most people write off night terrors as a quirk. If however night terrors are becoming a problem for you or someone in your family, talk to your doctor. There may be another condition contributing to their occurrence. Some things that may help:
- Keep your surrounding safe: Clear the floors and set up nightlights.
- Make getting more sleep a priority: Sleep deprivation is a common trigger.
- Find your pattern: There may be a trigger in your life triggering night terrors more often. Locate your triggers and make adjustments.
- Manage stress: Learn healthy and effective stress management techniques. A UPMC Health Plan health coach may be able to help you or point you to resources. Call 1-800-807-0751 to speak to a health coach today.