Night terrors: causes, symptoms and treatment

October 13, 2020 3 mins read
Night terrors: causes, symptoms and treatment

Have you been dealing with night terrors? Or has your partner or child been kicking and screaming in their sleep while looking wide awake?

If so, you’re probably looking for answers to questions like:

  • What causes night terrors?
  • What symptoms do you need to look out for?
  • And what treatment should you consider?

Here is what you need to know:

What are night terrors?

Night terrors are a type of parasomnia (sleep disorders that cause abnormal behaviour during sleep). They are dramatic nightmare episodes that can occur frequently. Also referred to as sleep terrors, episodes usually occur during non-REM sleep during the first three to four hours after falling asleep and can last between a few seconds and a few minutes.

When an episode occurs, you typically stay asleep, but can also wake up with anxiety. Your biggest risk is injuring yourself during an episode. But if you take the necessary precautions and remove any sharp objects and things you can trip over, your chances significantly reduce.

Symptoms of night terrors

Night terrors can be terrifying, but you probably do not have to worry if they do occur. They are more common in children than adults, and most children outgrow them naturally.

How can you tell if your child is experiencing a severe nightmare episode? It might seem like they are awake during an episode, even though they are asleep. Most people fall asleep again quickly if they do wake up.

Look out for these symptoms to determine whether you or someone you love is having night terrors.

  • Intense fear and anxiety
  • Screaming
  • Flailing
  • Kicking
  • Sleepwalking
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating

Causes of night terrors

Night terrors aren’t always caused by an underlying condition. They are a normal part of childhood development, but only if they occur infrequently.

If an underlying cause is to blame, it can be one of the following:

  • Being extremely tired and fatigued
  • Having a fever when sick
  • Changes in their sleep schedule that disrupt their sleep
  • Taking certain medications
  • Having a head injury
  • Experiencing stress and anxiety

How to stop night terrors

Night terrors usually stop on their own, but there are certain situations where it is best to seek help from your doctor:

  • If you have episodes two or more times a week
  • Episodes have or have almost resulted in injury
  • If you are sleepwalking during episodes
  • If you are experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness and struggle to get through your days
  • If you have persistent anxiety that is affecting the quality of your daily life

Here are a few things you can do to prevent night terrors from occurring:

Reduce stress

Find ways to reduce stress (for yourself and your child) like getting more exercise, doing yoga, spending more time with friends and family, reading, and going for massages.

Relax before bedtime

Do things that help you relax before bed, like guided sleep meditation. Other things you can try include restorative yoga, doing a skincare routine, sipping on some herbal tea, journaling and taking a warm bath,

Avoid becoming overtired

Make sure you get enough quality sleep every night, so you don’t become overtired. Improving your sleep hygiene can also help. Even though you’re trying to do it all, you need to make sure you get enough rest to avoid burnout. Ask for help when you need it. You won’t feel as tired if you can get other people to take some things off your plate.

Prioritise your self-care by doing some of the things mentioned above, like relaxing before bed, reducing stress, and resting enough. Hopefully, you will be able to say goodnight to night terrors forever.