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Night Terrors – a Sleep Disorder

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                Night terrors is a sleep disorder characterized by extreme terror and the temporary inability to regain consciousness.  The alternative names for this is pavor nocturnus and sleep terror disorder.  Sleep terror disorder or “night terrors” is a condition that occurs during stages 3 or 4 of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. In this research paper we will identify the symptoms of night terrors, explain the causes and identify any treatment options available for individuals suffering from the disorder.

                To distinguish between an ordinary nightmare and night terrors, you should first know the characteristics of both.  Nightmares are frightening dreams that occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep while night terrors occur during non-rapid eye movement sleep.  Nightmares are usually scary enough to awaken the sleeper and remain in the mind for several hours.  Another difference between these two is that nightmares can be talked about the next day and night terrors are seldom remembered.  (Dreams, Nightmares, and Night


                The symptoms of night terrors are very obvious which makes it easy to identify if you suffer from the disorder.  They range from the sudden awakening from sleep, persistent fear or terror that occurs at night, screaming, sweating, confusion, and a rapid heart rate.  Individuals have no recollection of these “bad dreams” or nightmares.  They may have a sense of frightening images but may be unable to explain what happened and no memory of the event when they awaken the next morning.  During the “night terrors” they are unable to fully wake up and these individuals are very difficult to comfort and console. (Night Terrors, 1)

                Night terrors usually strike children between the ages of three years and eight years.  They hardly ever occur in older children, adolescents, or adults.  In both adults and children, night terrors may be caused by unresolved psychological conflicts, traumatic events, and fatigue. In children, these traumatic events could be losing his favorite toy, overhearing a loud argument with parents, watching violent scenes on television or listening to a frightening horror story.  All of these events could trigger a night terrors.

                Particularly, among adults, prescription drugs such as antihistamines, decongestants, levadopa, reserpine, beta-blockers, and anti-depressants, as well as withdrawal from addictive drugs can bring about sleep disturbances such as night terrors. (Night Terror Resource Center)

                Stress plays a key role in night terrors.  If a child goes to bed later than he usually does, has a active and eventful evening, or does not have a nap or any sort of rest time during the day this could lead to night terrors.  Parents should try to devote an hour or so before bedtime for the child to “cool down.”  This could mean giving them a warm bath, listening to lullabies, or reading books.  Although it sounds crazy, parents should try to avoid putting their child to bed overly tired.  The more tired they are the worse their night terrors could be.

                Heat is another major factor in night terrors.  For the most part, many parents find that their child is sweating during a night terror.  This is a common occurrence, however, if the child is hot when going to sleep it is possible that their night terrors could be worse.  Preventative measures can be taken like cracking windows to keep the child from getting hot and also dressing the child in lightweight pajamas.  During summer, you can just let the child sleep in a diaper or underwear and a t-shirt.  If your child must sleep with a blanket make sure that he is not wrapped up in it or it is not too hot.

                Some parents find that purchasing a noise machine and placing it in the child’s room is very helpful.  This machine can be purchased at any major department store for $35 to $75  and it emits a steady soothing sound.  This helps the child in transitioning from REM to deep sleep.  It is worth mentioning that in summer months the air conditioner can be a substitutable option.  These machines have a wide variety of sounds from ocean, wind, waterfall, and lullabies, just to name a few, and parents can pick what the child feels most comfortable with.  Most parents find it soothing and enjoyable also.

                Chamomile has also been linked to helping children with their night terrors.  This is a herbal remedy found at your health food store.  Herbal remedies, while not being as strong or quick to react as drugs, have much lower side effects and are not found to be habit forming.  There are many herbs in the market that are utilized in helping sooth and relax children.  These herbal remedies do not work overnight.  It usually takes around a week of doses to notice any considerable relief of night terrors.

                You should not give a child Benadryl to help with the night terrors.  The side effect of Benadryl is drowsiness but it does not help the child with their night terrors.  The drug is for allergies and this is comparable to an adult taking night time cold medicine to help them sleep when they have no symptoms of sickness.  It is important to understand that you should never use a drug just for the side effects.

                Aroma therapy was also found to be helpful in prevention of sleep terror disorder.  Parents can burn candles in the child’s room for about two hours before bedtime with the doors closed.  When you put the child to bed, you blow it out and the aroma will stay in the room for the majority of the night.  During the day you can use a light ring with an aroma such as lavender.  This light ring is a terra cotton ring that fits over the light bulb in a lamp.  You put a few drops of the lavender oil in the ring and then on the bulb.  The heat from the lamp heats the oil and fills the room with a lavender aroma which is very relaxing.

                Parents should never try to wake their child up during the night terrors.  Even though the child may talk to you or react to what you are saying, they are actually sleep.  They hardly ever remember the night terror the next day.  As parents, you should use soothing words like “Everything is okay.” and “Mommy and daddy are right here with you.” or “We love you.”  If that doesn’t work, try to ask the child questions directly like “Where is the kitty cat?” or “Where is Elmo?”  Parents should try to stay as calm as possible.  The more excited and loud you get, the worse the night terrors can get for the child.  Also, try to adjust to what the child is asking for.  If they don’t want to be held, don’t hold them.  If they ask for you to hold them, then hold them.

                In many cases, comfort and reassurance are the only treatment required, but psychotherapy or counseling may be appropriate in some cases.   Sleep disorder clinics often are able to help people restore normal sleeping patterns through various techniques. Night terrors may also be treated with hypnosis and guided imagery techniques. (Night Terrors, 2)

                Individuals affected by night terrors should be evaluated by a physician if they are really severe and occur frequently. A physician can recommend the best treatment for the particular circumstances of the night terrors. In some severe cases, the physician may prescribe a benzodiazepine tranquilizer, such as Diazepam, known to suppress Stage 4 of sleep. The physician may also refer the affected person for further evaluation by a sleep disorder specialist.  Adults affected by night terror episodes should avoid stress, the consumption of alcohol and stimulants before going to sleep. (Night Terrors, 3)

    Works Cited

    Night Terrors.  5 April 2008


    Night Terror 2.  5 April 2008


    Night Terrors Resource Center 5 April 2008


    Dreams, Nightmares, and Night Terrors.  5 April 2008

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    Night Terrors 3.  5 April 2008



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