Almost all of us have woken up from nightmares before, but night terrors are an entirely different beast. The sleep disorder is largely confined to children – affecting around 6% of children aged between three and eight years old, compared to just 1-2% of adults.
Sufferers will appear to be incredibly panicked, often thrashing around, screaming or trying to leave the room/house. In children, these episodes are mostly forgotten even when their eyes are open and they look like they’re awake.
There are various triggers that can increase the likelihood of a night terror. These include:
- sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings
- extreme tiredness
- external light/noise
- full bladder
While these can make it more likely that a night terror will occur, episodes can happen with no obvious cause or trigger. If your child or partner has night terrors, try the following:
Don’t wake them – If you try to wake them up in the middle of a night terror episode, they will be disorientated which can increase their feelings of stress and anxiety.
Ensure they don’t hurt themselves – Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t injure themselves or try to escape the house.
Once the terror has subsided, wake them – This will break their sleep pattern before they return to a deep sleep. You can also encourage them to use the toilet in case a full bladder triggered the terror.
For children in particular, it is unlikely that they will remember anything. This is because night terrors usually occur during non-REM sleep, when dreams are less likely to include vivid emotions and imagery.
Children tend to simply grow out of night terrors, but it can occur in adulthood. Adults are more likely to remember the terrors and are at a greater risk of injuring themselves or leaving the house.
Understanding the cause and trying to reduce stress levels is advised for adults suffering with night terrors. As with other sleep disorders, many people find hypnotherapy a helpful tool for coping with night terrors. You can find out more on our sleep disorders page.