What are the Symptoms of Night Terrors?

Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, are a sleep disorder characterized by episodes of intense fear, screaming, and agitation during sleep. They typically occur during non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and often in the first half of the night. Night terrors are more common in children but can occur in adults as well. They are distinct from nightmares.

Night terrors are not typically a symptom of an underlying mental health condition or psychiatric disorder. Instead, they are generally associated with several other factors and conditions, including:

  • Sleep Disorders: Night terrors can be linked to other sleep disorders, such as sleepwalking (somnambulism), restless legs syndrome, or obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Stress and Anxiety: High levels of stress, anxiety, or major life changes can increase the likelihood of experiencing night terrors, particularly in adults.
  • Fever or Illness: In children, night terrors can sometimes occur during a fever or illness.
  • Medication: Certain medications, especially those that affect the central nervous system, may contribute to sleep disturbances like night terrors.
  • Alcohol and Substance Use: The use of alcohol, drugs, or the withdrawal from such substances can disrupt sleep patterns and increase the risk of night terrors.
  • Family History: There is some evidence to suggest a genetic component, as a family history of night terrors may increase the likelihood of experiencing them.

It’s essential to distinguish between night terrors and nightmares, which are different sleep disturbances. Nightmares involve disturbing dreams that are usually vivid and remembered upon waking. Night terrors, on the other hand, are characterized by sudden, intense fear, confusion, and typically a lack of recollection upon awakening.

While night terrors themselves are not indicative of a mental health disorder, they can be distressing and disruptive. In some cases, addressing underlying factors such as stress, fever, or sleep disorders may help reduce the frequency of night terrors. If night terrors become a significant concern and affect daily life, a healthcare provider or sleep specialist should be consulted for a proper evaluation and to explore potential treatments or strategies to manage the condition.

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