Night-terrors are dreams that cause feelings of dread or terror – generally much more vivid than a nightmare – and mostly occur in the time when you are just exiting N3 – deep sleep. They’re also reported to occur during daytime naps.
They are reported much less frequently than nightmares and only a very small percentage of us (1-6%) will ever experience one during our lifetimes.
Instead of just waking up and being unable to get back to sleep (like a nightmare), night-terror sufferers will “bolt upright” in their bed, often screaming with panic and fear on their face. They will exhibit physical symptoms of the night-terror as well – increased respiration, sweating, and rapid heart rates. It’s as though the “event” was so real that they’ve actually experienced it … and I guess in their minds, they did.
Sometimes, because you’re really still in N3 sleep and your limbs aren’t paralyzed, night-terror sufferers will lash out with their arms and legs. This makes things even more precarious and could lead to injury of anyone nearby – including the sufferer. It’s like terror-driven sleep walking. You may think they are awake – because they behave like they are – but they are really still deep asleep (some small children may indeed be awake, but they are disoriented).
Night-terrors are classified as a parasomnia – like sleep walking, bruxism, or restless leg syndrome, and the treatment generally take one of three paths:
- Simple overtiredness could be the cause of night-terrors. The “cure” is to modify sleeping schedules to get the rest you really need.
- Cognative therapy, just like with nightmares, can help.
- In some cases, benzodiazepines could be prescribed to help with sleep (my own experiences show that it limits N3 sleep).
I’ve never known anyone who suffers from night-terrors, but it sounds awful. The odd nightmare as a kid felt as real as I ever want it to, thank-you very much.