What Causes Night Terrors, And How Do They Work?

Night terrors. They’re a sleep disorder much more intense than nightmares, which cause feelings of panic

But how do they work?

A night terror is a form of parasomnia, which is a category of sleep disorder that involves partial arousal, and abnormal movements and behaviors. Sleepwalking is also a form of parasomnia and may occur during a night terror as well.

A night terror looks a lot like a panic attack, only during sleep. People often bolt upright with a look of panic on their faces and in some cases scream. They may sweat, have rapid breathing, and a fast heart rate. Some sufferers may thrash their limbs and punch and kick.

The person experiencing a night terror may seem awake, but they’ll appear confused and unresponsive to attempts at communication. Once it’s over, the sufferer will typically have no memory of the episode.

Night terrors typically occur in children between the ages of 3 and 12, and they usually happen in the first hours of stage 3-4 non-rapid eye movement sleep. Most children outgrow night terrors, but some people experience them well into adulthood. Night terrors only occur in less than 0.001% of the adult population, but for those who do suffer from them, they are undoubtedly highly harrowing experiences.

Some evidence suggests that night terrors are genetic or congenital, which means they’re in you from birth. People who experience night terrors often have family members who get them as well. Other findings suggest that sleep deprivation and fever can increase the likelihood of having a night terror episode

Treatment varies depending on the intensity of the night terror episodes. Since they are related to sleep deprivation, improving your quality and amount of sleep may help.

But in extreme cases of night terrors, medication and psychotherapy are recommended.