After spending the last 20+ years of my life experiencing night terrors, I decided to find out more about this sleep disorder. I hope the following will help shed some light on the subject.
People who have night terrors are often misdiagnosed. The most common one is a simple nightmare. Any of you who have had a night terror can say they aren't even close! Another common misdiagnosis (especially among veterans) is PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For this reason I have included a description of the difference between nightmares and night terrors.
Sudden awakening from sleep, persistent fear or terror that occurs at night, screaming, sweating, confusion, rapid heart rate, inability to explain what happened, usually no recall of "bad dreams" or nightmares, may have a vague sense of frightening images. Many people see spiders, snakes, animals or people in the room, are unable to fully awake, difficult to comfort, with no memory of the event on awakening the next day.
Ongoing research is being done on scheduled awakening therapy, which has been shown to cure night terrors in 9 out of 10 in children. Scheduled awakening therapy involves waking the child from sleep 15–30 minutes before the episodes typically occur to interrupt the sleep cycle and prevent the onset of a night terror. A research group at Stanford University is conducting a study for an investigational treatment that uses a non-medication, at-home sleep management system to perform scheduled awakenings. To find out more about this ongoing research, visit: Stanford University Night Terrors Research Site. (Update: The research was successfully completed and a company formed on the basis of the results sells a).
Nightmares occur during the dream phase of sleep known as REM sleep. Most people enter the REM stage of sleep sometime after 90 minutes of sleep. The circumstances of the nightmare will frighten the sleeper, who usually will wake up with a vivid memory of a long movie-like dream. Night terrors, on the other hand, occur during a phase of deep non-REM sleep usually within an hour after the subject goes to bed. This is also known as stage 4. (A link to a sleep stages chart can be found on the navigation bar to the left) During a night terror, which may last anywhere from five to twenty minutes, the person is still asleep, although the sleepers eyes may be open. When the subject does wake up, they usually have no recollection of the episode other than a sense of fear. This, however, is not always the case. Quite a few people interviewed can remember portions of the night terror, and some remember the whole thing.
The purpose of this site is to help people understand that there are medical solutions and reasons for Night Terrors. You will not be preached to here or told that Satan caused your Night Terrors. Night Terrors are a medical ailment and not demon possession. (Contrary to what others may tell you.) The first thing I found was that this problem goes by a few different names. Sleep Terrors, Sleep Terror Disorder, Night Terrors, Pavor Nocturnus and then the mouthful DSM-IV AXIS I: 307.46 are just a few. This fact made it very difficult to do an internet search for more information. Another problem I ran into was that HSP (Hallucinatory sleep disorder) has some similarities to Night Terrors. I have included information about sleep paralysis to help you figure out which you may have.
Sleep labs across the United States and Canada have shown through sleep studies, that Night Terrors happen due to increased brain activity.
The common thought among researchers is that a chemical trigger in the brain causes your brain to "misfire" and cause a Night Terror. These misfires can be caused by many factors such as stress and various other medical ailments. Please check out the Additional NT Information page to find out more.Next: Symptoms