Although night terrors can occur anytime in a persons life span, the most common is reported in children between the ages of three and five. (However more recent studies have turned up showing that many adults as well as children as young as six months experience night terrors on a weekly basis.) Night terrors usually occur fifteen minutes to one hour after going to sleep. I personally experience mine at just about the 45 minute mark. The longer the person is in NREM (the stages before REM) before the night terror strikes, the more petrified they will be when it occurs. Keep in mind though not everyone falls to sleep in the same amount of time as others. This makes a sleep study about the only way of determining what stage of sleep you are in when these events occur.
Night terrors have been shown to appear in stage 4 of sleep. This is just one thing that separates them from nightmares which can occur anytime in sleep. It is possible to make a night terror occur in some people, simply by touching or awakening them during stage 4 of sleep. Why night terrors occur is still a mystery. The mind is supposed to be practically void during the deeper stages of sleep. Most sufferers will awake gasping, moaning, crying but more often screaming.
Breathing rapidly they will sit up in bed with a wide eyed terror filled stare. This panic will often last anywhere from five to twenty minutes. I find the most amazing aspect of night terrors is that it generates a heart rate of 160 to 170 beats per minute. This is much faster than the normal heart rate that can be attained under most stressful circumstances.
Some things that can help bring out a night terror are stress, medications that affect the brain, (It is hard to list exactly which ones) being over-tired or eating a heavy meal before going to bed. Combining all of the above I can usually guarantee an occurrence for myself. Many different medical ailments contribute to the frequency of Night Terrors. (Once again to many and to hard to list, Please do not e-mail me to have one added.) The listed items DO NOT cause night terrors, they just seem to put your body into the state where a night terror can manifest itself. People without night terrors will not have a night terror just by trying the above.
There seems to be a common thread in how night terrors manifest themselves. Many people who remember the night terror have talked about seeing animals or people. Most people describe the person that they see as dark and shadowy and feel that the person is going to hurt them. Quite a few people see snakes and spiders. At first I thought people were seeing only things they are afraid of during waking hours. After more research I found that only a small percentage of people were afraid of what they see (in night terrors) during waking hours.
Some people remember the Night Terror. Some don't. There is no explanation to why some have no recall of the events during a Night Terror. If you are told by a doctor that the fact you remember your night terror it must not be a night terror, find another doctor.
Many people have written me to disagree, but I have found the best method of controlling someone during a night terror is to hug and reassure them and tell them that everything is all right. Agree with what they are saying and doing. Sometimes it is not possible to hug them. Don't try to force physical contact. DO NOT yell at them or tell them they are only dreaming as this seems to only upset them even more. Move objects that can injure the person out of the way. This method seems to work better in children rather than in adults. (Adults are a little more physical) The most important thing to remember is that someone having a night terror does not know what they are doing. Make sure that there is not anything nearby that they can hurt themselves or others with. It is perfectly safe to wake someone who is having a Night Terror. Please be gentle!
It is also interesting to note that two other disorders, sleepwalking and bed wetting, are experienced during stage 4 of sleep. (Don't e-mail me and ask me about those disorders though.) Even more interesting is the fact that all three of these sleep disorders often run in families. My father only realized he had night terrors after I started researching the subject. Some families will dismiss night terrors as nightmares and grow more and more upset blaming the problem on television or other before bed stimulus. Episodic night terrors DO NOT signify psychological problems. Don't ever tell the subject that nothing has happened. It is OK to tell that person, the next morning, they had a night terror. It is however not advisable to notify children the next morning if they do not remember.