What is Night Terror Disorder?
Night terror disorder, also known as sleep terror disorder, is a sleep disorder characterized by episodes of intense fear and panic during sleep. It is classified as a parasomnia, which refers to abnormal behaviors or experiences that occur during sleep. Night terrors typically occur during the first few hours of sleep and can last for several minutes. They are more common in children, but can also occur in adults.
During a night terror episode, the person may suddenly sit up in bed, scream, and appear to be in a state of extreme fear. They may exhibit signs of intense distress, such as rapid breathing, sweating, and a rapid heart rate. The person may also appear confused and disoriented, and may not respond to attempts to comfort or console them. After the episode, the person usually falls back asleep and has no memory of the event upon waking.
Night terrors are different from nightmares, which are unpleasant dreams that cause feelings of fear, anxiety, or sadness. Nightmares occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep, while night terrors occur during the non-REM stage. Night terrors are often more intense and dramatic than nightmares, and the person experiencing them may not be fully awake or aware of their surroundings.
The exact cause of night terror disorder is unknown, but there are several factors that may contribute to its development. It is believed to be related to an over-arousal of the central nervous system during sleep. Other factors that may increase the risk of night terrors include a family history of the disorder, sleep deprivation, stress, and certain medications or substances, such as alcohol or sedatives.
Night terrors are most common in children between the ages of 3 and 12, although they can occur at any age. They tend to occur more frequently in boys than girls. Most children outgrow night terrors by adolescence, but in some cases, the disorder may persist into adulthood.
Night terrors can be distressing for both the person experiencing them and their loved ones. However, they are generally considered harmless and do not pose any long-term health risks. Treatment is usually not necessary unless the night terrors are causing significant distress or disrupting the person’s sleep.
If treatment is deemed necessary, it may involve addressing any underlying factors that may be contributing to the night terrors. This may include improving sleep hygiene, such as establishing a regular sleep schedule and creating a calm and comfortable sleep environment. In some cases, medications may be prescribed to help manage the symptoms of night terrors.
It is important to note that night terrors are not the same as sleepwalking, although they can occur together. Sleepwalking is a separate sleep disorder characterized by walking or performing other complex behaviors while asleep. Night terrors and sleepwalking are both considered parasomnias, but they have different causes and symptoms.
In conclusion, night terror disorder is a sleep disorder characterized by episodes of intense fear and panic during sleep. It is more common in children, but can also occur in adults. Night terrors are different from nightmares and are believed to be related to an over-arousal of the central nervous system during sleep. While treatment is usually not necessary, addressing any underlying factors and improving sleep hygiene may help manage the symptoms of night terrors.