Why do Children And Adults Suffer From Night Terrors?

Waking up screaming and covered in sweat is never pleasant neither for a child nor an adult. And it’s even more impressive for those around them, both parents and partners! This is what we call night terrors. This parasomnia isn’t harmless, even if it’s more common in children. It’s important to understand the origins of night terrors and its symptoms in order to reduce them or even make them completely disappear.

What is a night terror?

It’s often thought that only children have night terrors, but adults have them too, even though less than 2 % are affected. Whether in children or adults, a night terror is still a form of parasomnia. It’s a paroxysmal and dramatic sleep disorder that occurs early in the night. Night terrors take place during deep slow-wave sleep and are similar to sleepwalking.

💤 It’s therefore important to differentiate night terrors from nightmares because the person or child has complete amnesia of the episode once they are fully awake.

What are the causes of night terrors?

Night terrors in children

Parasomnia and night terrors are not surprising in children. Up to 25 % of under 10s have already had a night terror episode. The main cause is very often related to a lack of sleep, such as stopping naps. But other causes, common to adults, are possible:

  • Fatigue,
  • Stress or anxiety,
  • Infectious diseases with fever,
  • Asthma,
  • Heredity,
  • Gastroesophageal reflex disease,
  • Certain medication.

Night terrors in adults

All the causes of night terrors in children are also valid for adults, but there are others too. Indeed, intense physical activity, stress, consumption of stimulants, drugs or alcohol all contribute to night terrors in adults. However, the psychological factor shouldn’t be overlooked. This sleep disorder can indeed hide a psychological malaise.

>>> Discover what causes our nightmares?

Night terrors: what are the symptoms?

A complicated transition

Whether it’s in children or adults, the symptoms of night terrors are the same. Indeed, night terrors always occur at the same time: when the individual is about to leave the deep slow-wave sleep phase and go into REM sleep (dream sleep). This transition may not go well due to the aforementioned causes.

Reaction to the night terror

During a night terror episode, the individual becomes very agitated, sits up in bed or even gets up and screams. The body expresses characteristics of fear: sweating, nausea, increased heart and breathing rate… Night terrors are very impressive to see from the outside for those around. Especially since, like sleepwalking, the child or adult doesn’t recognize their close ones. They are truly unaware of what’s happening to them.

➜ A night terror stops abruptly. This is one way of differentiating from a nightmare, the child or adult is awake. After a night terror, the person calms down on their own and usually goes back to sleep.

>>> Find out why people talk in their sleep

What is the treatment for night terrors?

Treatment of night terrors in children

There’s no treatment as such, but there are certain reflexes that parents should have. If the child lacks sleep or if they’re more tired than normal, they need to go to sleep earlier. The child must have a good rhythm of life with regular sleep. Night terrors can also be a manifestation of stress, so don’t hesitate to talk with your child to try and understand what’s worrying them.

➜ Whether it’s a sleep disturbance or anxiety, it’s possible to turn to a health professional in order to best help the child stop the night terrors.

Treatment of night terrors in adults

When you have night terrors as an adult, it’s worthwhile implementing some small tricks to calm your anxiety such as meditation or yoga. Indeed, stress is one of the most important factors in parasomnia. Some drug treatments just before bed can also calm the anxiety before going to sleep.

>>> Learn what anxiety can do to your body

Editor’s note: Understand the origins to get rid of them

🌙 The most important thing to do if the night terrors continue is to consult a psychiatrist or a psychologist. Indeed, one of these two health professionals will be able to understand the origins of these terrors so that you can get rid of them.

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