Darkness. Silence. Isolation. It’s midnight, and a woman is on her way home from the bar, alone. She hugs herself for warmth, as she treks down the deserted sidewalk. Loud sounds behind her cause her to keep a constant look over her shoulder.
The woman picks up speed, as the sounds grow more audible. She looks over her shoulder again, as she shuffles along ⎯ this time spotting two large men charging after her with knives.
The woman takes a hard right down a dark alley, which leads to a dead end. The two men slowly approach the woman, as she screams and crouches in terror. The men inch closer and closer, as darkness swallows the woman.
Suddenly, the woman is in bed: thrashing, kicking, screaming, as she shouts, “No, no,” as if in terrible agony. The woman eventually jolts awake ⎯ sweating and breathing heavily ⎯ her heart rate skyrocketing.
She does a quick scan of her surroundings: no men, no knives and no dark alley. She’s safe. The woman cups her face in her hands, crying uncontrollably.
BUMP IN THE NIGHT
Night terrors are a very real thing, and can happen to anyone. Although night terrors are usually more common in children, they sometimes carry over into adulthood. Also known as sleep terrors, night terrors are episodes of fear, flailing and screaming, while asleep.
According to MayoClinc, night terrors are rare, affecting a small percentage of children ⎯ usually between the ages of 4 and 12 ⎯ and a small percentage of adults.
Sleep terrors differ greatly from nightmares. The dreamer of a nightmare wakes up from the dream, remembering details. But the dreamer of a night terror episode remains asleep. Children usually can’t recall details from their night terrors, but adults may remember fragments they had during theirs.
Various factors can be associated with adult night terrors, including: fatigue, sleep deprivation, stress, anxiety and sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings.
Researchers at Stanford University Sleep Clinic have found that night terrors affect between 3-10 percent of children, and only about one percent of adults. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent night terrors from occurring, it’s a problem the child usually outgrows by the time they reach the ages 5-12.
“Night terrors often run in families,” said Dr. Richard Ferber, a pediatric sleep specialist at Children’s Hospital in Boston.
Much like sleepwalking and nightmares, night terrors are parasomnia ⎯ an undesired occurrence during sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep terrors usually occur during the first third of the sleep period.
During a night terror episode, a person might sit up in bed, scream or shout, thrash or flail, sweat, breathe heavily, have a racing pulse, stare wide-eyed, or sometimes engage in violent behavior ⎯ this one more commonly seen in adults.
Occasional night terrors aren’t usually a cause for concern, according to the National Sleep Foundation. A person should only consult a doctor, if the night terror episodes become more frequent, routinely disrupt sleep or the sleep of other family members, cause the person to fear going to sleep, or if they lead to violent or dangerous behavior.
NOTE TO THE PARENT OR SIGNIFICANT OTHER
If someone in your life suffers from night terrors, be sure to stay by their side and wait it out. Don’t try to wake them, and shaking or shouting at them is never recommended.
“It’s important to remain calm,” said Ferber, “because if the person does wake up, your anxiety can frighten them.”
Remember that night terrors are spontaneous and unintentional. The person or persons in your life that may be experiencing them need your support, and most importantly ⎯ your patience.