I’m sure you’ve had a nightmare before, especially when you were younger. Waking up thinking the boogey man is in your room or that you’ve fallen off a building. These kinds of dreams happen during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, and typically occur in the middle of the night or early in the morning. Night mares are very common in children and become less common growing into adulthood. These kinds of dreams result in waking up quite panicked, but are not harmful in any way.
Night terrors are slightly different to this, and can be much more distressing to the sufferer and the people around us. They occur in less than 1% of adults, and can induce violent thrashing, kicking, running or walking into danger, screaming and yelling. Suffers usually have no recollection of the episode, causing confusion if woken up. Night terrors occur in the Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) stage of sleep – this is how the two are differentiated in the medical world. Contributing factors leading to night terrors in adults include extreme tiredness and stress.
At 26 years of age, the night terrors i’ve had in the past 5 or so years have been the most intense to date. As an adult this can result in fatigue due to a restless sleep, and not to mention the embarrassment if you’re sleeping in bed with somebody! Some of my episodes included running up and down the hallway of my house, springing out of bed – resulting in a broken toe, to waking up in the bathroom after locking myself in.
After seeing a sleep specialist with little treatment options, I have noticed a big difference in my sleeping when I started looking after myself a little better. My night terror episodes have significantly decreased in severity and occasion once I ate better, went to bed earlier, and did more exercise. I’m certainly no sleep expert – I still struggle with sleeping issues – though it seems no coincidence once my lifestyle improved, so did my sleep.
Advice I would give to any sufferers or people close to anyone that has night terrors – stay calm! Unless the person is putting themselves in danger, i.e. leaving the house, do not wake them up. Speak to them calmly and try to relax them; don’t yell and don’t panic. Look at the foods the sufferer is eating before bed, their routine and stress levels. Making small lifestyle changes has made a huge difference to my quality of sleep, and I hope it can help yours too!