It is natural for anyone to have a nightmare or anxiety dream every once in a while but people who experience very intense night terrors on a regular basis may be dealing with a sleep disorder. Night terrors are actually very different from nightmares which tend to occur after a day filled with tension, stress or anxiety. People with night terrors will have them persistently and yet won’t remember most of the details of the dreams.
Night terrors can affect a person’s mental health because it can disrupt sleep and may be related to issues with anxiety or past trauma. People with night terrors may feel tired during the day and begin to feel the effects of a lack of sleep on their mood and ability to function. They may even hurt themselves or others during an especially intense night terror.
In order to recover from night terrors it is important to treat the underlying condition that may be causing them. Treating mental health issues, minimizing stress and occasionally the use of medication can all be helpful in reducing instances of night terrors. It is important to see a mental health professional or a sleep specialist to get a diagnosis and treatment plan for night terrors.
Causes and Symptoms of Night Terrors
One of the main differences between night terrors and normal nightmares is that people who have night terrors rarely recall anything about the dream. When someone wakes up from a nightmare they can remember vivid details about the experience but someone with night terrors will sleep through the dream and remember little to nothing. They might not even be aware that they had a night terror or will feel perfectly fine the next day.
Although they won’t remember much about the dream, during a night terror the sleeper will exhibit many symptoms that may be disruptive to others. They might flail their arms around in their sleep, scream, engage in violent acts, sit up in bed or sleepwalk and be difficult to awaken. The person will not remember doing any of these things but the symptoms can appear terrifying to friends or family who witness it.
Night terrors often begin to develop during a person’s childhood but they might persist into their adult years if they are not able to receive treatment. They often occur when a person’s brain shifts from one type of brain wave to another and then back again while they are asleep. Episodes tend to take hold when the person is shifting between deep sleep and light sleep when their brain is sedated and still.
Children that develop night terrors usually do so because their brains are still develop and they have little control over what happens while they sleep. Typically they can go away completely when the child reaches their teen years. Someone who has night terrors continually through adulthood may have a serious sleep disorder.
Anxiety and Sleep Terrors
When young children experience sleep terrors it is usually because they are very tired or somehow anxious at bedtime. Any type of stressful experience before going to bed could trigger a child to have a night terror. When adults experience night terrors it can also be triggered by anxiety related to issues such as stress at work, romantic difficulties or other life challenges.
People who have difficulty releasing or expressing their tension and anxiety while they are awake may be more likely to experience night terrors. In many cases they may also have underlying problems such as a mental illness or issues with illicit drug use or alcohol abuse. People who are able to cope with stress effectively or receive treatment for a condition may find that their night terrors eventually diminish over time.
Treating night terrors can mean finding healthy ways to deal with anxiety and stress such as individual therapy, relaxation techniques before bed, meditation, exercise and other methods that can keep anxiety to a minimum. Stress reduction can help significantly with night terrors but some people may want to use medication like benzodiazepines or antidepressants if they are struggling.
There are other methods which may help improve the symptoms of night terrors such as getting enough rest, establishing a regular sleep routine and nighttime ritual, talking to friends and family members for help and keeping a sleep diary to keep track of when and why night terrors occur. Understanding what triggers night terrors can be a key to preventing them from occurring regularly.
Night terrors can be a complicated issue but if they are disrupting sleep or causing problems it may be necessary to get some assistance in dealing with them. If you or someone you know is experiencing night terrors then contact a professional to help determine the cause and develop a possible treatment plan.