Sleep Terror Symptoms: What You Need to Know

Introduction

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, sweating and screaming? Have you ever experienced a sudden, intense feeling of fear or panic during sleep? If so, you may be suffering from sleep terrors, a type of parasomnia that can interfere with your quality of life. In this article, we’ll explore the causes, symptoms, and treatments for sleep terrors.

What are Sleep Terrors?

Sleep terrors (also known as night terrors) are a type of parasomnia, which are abnormal behaviors that occur during sleep. They usually happen during the first few hours of sleep, during the non-REM (NREM) stage. Unlike nightmares, sleep terrors are not dreams, and they can be extremely distressing for both the person experiencing them and anyone who witnesses them.

During a sleep terror episode, a person may sit up in bed and scream or shout, appear agitated or fearful, and may be difficult to rouse. They may also exhibit physical symptoms, such as sweating, increased heart rate or breathing, and may move around or act as if they are trying to escape from something.

Unlike sleepwalking, which usually occurs during the REM stage of sleep, sleep terrors can occur during any stage of NREM sleep. They are more common in children, but adults can also experience them.

Causes of Sleep Terrors

The exact causes of sleep terrors are not fully understood, but they are thought to be related to disruptions in the sleep cycle. Some of the factors that may increase your risk of developing sleep terrors include:

  • Family history. Sleep terrors appear to run in families.
  • Stress. Tiredness, anxiety, and depression can trigger sleep terrors.
  • Fever. Sleep terrors can occur in children who have a fever or other illness.
  • Medications. Certain medications, such as some antidepressants, can contribute to sleep terrors.
  • Substance abuse. Alcohol and drug abuse can increase the likelihood of sleep terrors.

Symptoms of Sleep Terrors

The most common symptom of sleep terrors is a sudden, intense feeling of fear or panic during sleep. Other symptoms may include:

  • Unexplained shouting or screaming
  • Sweating and increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Dilated pupils and a glazed look in the eyes
  • Aggressive or violent behavior (in rare cases)

One of the distinguishing features of sleep terrors is that the person experiencing them is usually difficult to rouse and may not remember the episode in the morning. Unlike nightmares, which can be recalled in detail upon waking, sleep terrors are usually forgotten.

Diagnosis of Sleep Terrors

If you suspect you may be suffering from sleep terrors, it’s important to speak to your doctor. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and may also conduct a sleep study to diagnose the condition. A sleep study involves spending a night in a sleep lab, where doctors monitor your sleep patterns and brain activity.

Treatment of Sleep Terrors

In most cases, sleep terrors do not require treatment and tend to resolve on their own as a person gets older. However, if sleep terrors are causing distress or interfering with everyday life, your doctor may recommend one of the following treatments:

  • Addressing underlying conditions. If your sleep terrors are being caused by an underlying medical condition or medication, your doctor may recommend treating the underlying problem.
  • Improving sleep hygiene. Improving your sleep habits, such as sticking to a regular sleep schedule and avoiding caffeine and alcohol, can help reduce your risk of sleep terrors.
  • Medications. Certain medications, such as benzodiazepines or antidepressants, may be prescribed to help prevent sleep terrors.

Prevention of Sleep Terrors

There are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of sleep terrors, including:

  • Reducing stress and anxiety in your life
  • Establishing a regular sleep routine
  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs

Conclusion

While sleep terrors can be frightening, they are generally not a cause for concern and tend to resolve on their own. However, if you or someone you know is experiencing sleep terrors that are causing distress or interfering with daily life, it’s important to speak to a doctor. With the right treatment and management techniques, sleep terrors can be effectively controlled.

FAQs

What are Sleep Terror Symptoms?

Sleep Terror Symptoms, otherwise known as night terrors, are a sleep disorder that causes specific symptoms such as screaming, sweating, and intense fear. They occur during the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stage of sleep and can last from a few seconds to a few minutes.

What causes Sleep Terror Symptoms?

The causes of sleep terror symptoms are not well understood, but they are believed to be a result of various factors such as stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation, fever, and certain medications. Night terrors are more common in children and usually, they outgrow them by their teenage years.

Can Sleep Terror Symptoms be treated?

While there is no cure for sleep terror symptoms, there are ways to manage them. Treatment options include educating the patient and their family members about sleep terror symptoms, creating a consistent bedtime routine, reducing stress and anxiety, treating sleep apnea, and avoiding triggers such as medications or alcohol. In some cases, medication may be prescribed to reduce symptoms.


References

1. Klackl, J., Hodlmoser, K., Kuess, J. A., & Schmid, D. (2017). Sleep terrors: What is it all about?. Somnologie – Schlafforschung Und Schlafmedizin, 21(2), 135-144. doi: 10.1007/s11818-017-0125-1

2. Butters, J. E. (2013). Sleep Terrors: A Comprehensive Introduction. Sleep Health, 1(4), 307-312. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2013.09.005

3. Ohayon, M. M., & Chevalier, H. (2002). Prevalence and clinical characteristics of sleep terrors in the general population. Clinical Medicine, Psychiatry, 3, 89-102. doi: 10.1007/s11920-005-0010-8