Author: Cindy Nunn, API founder
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “night terror” as : a sudden awakening in dazed terror that occurs in children during slow-wave sleep, is often preceded by a sudden shrill cry uttered in sleep, and is not remembered when the child awakes.
These episodes normally begin in children between the ages of 3 and 12 years, and, although not common, can also continue into adulthood. Sleep terrors are classified as a parasomnia.
For those who have never witnessed a child suffering through night terrors, let me assure you that it is a truly horrific and frightening experience!
The Mayo Clinic website provides the following symptoms for sleep terrors.
Sleep terrors differ from nightmares. The dreamer of a nightmare wakes up from the dream and may remember details, but a person who has a sleep terror episode remains asleep. Children usually don’t remember anything about their sleep terrors in the morning. Adults may recall a dream fragment they had during the sleep terrors.
Sleep terrors generally occur in the first third to first half of the night, and rarely during naps. A sleep terror may lead to sleepwalking.
During a sleep terror episode, a person may:
- Begin with a frightening scream or shout
- Sit up in bed and appear frightened
- Stare wide-eyed
- Sweat, breathe heavily, and have a racing pulse, flushed face and dilated pupils
- Kick and thrash
- Be hard to awaken, and be confused if awakened
- Be inconsolable
- Have no or little memory of the event the next morning
- Possibly, get out of bed and run around the house or have aggressive behavior if blocked or restrained
There are different theories regarding the cause of sleep terrors. Again referring to the Mayo Clinic they provide these explanations:
Various factors can contribute to sleep terrors, such as:
- Sleep deprivation and extreme tiredness
- Sleep schedule disruptions, travel or sleep interruptions
Sleep terrors sometimes can be triggered by underlying conditions that interfere with sleep, such as:
- Sleep-disordered breathing — a group of disorders that include abnormal breathing patterns during sleep, the most common of which is obstructive sleep apnea
- Restless legs syndrome
- Some medications
- Mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety
- In adults, alcohol use
Some theorize that there is some evidence that in some sufferers night terrors may be congenital. Individuals frequently report that past family members have had either episodes of sleep terrors or sleepwalking. Other contributing factors include narcolepsy, nocturnal asthma, gastroesophageal reflux, and central nervous system medications.
My personal experiences with night terrors was something I will never forget. My son was only about 18 months old when he started having them, much younger than is the norm. He also remembered them the next day, and the next. These episodes went on periodically for about two months, and then just as suddenly as they started, they ended, never to return. The worst and last event happened about midnight, when I was jarred out of sleep by the sounds of my son screaming in terror. I went into his room to comfort him, but this time the night terror was different. Eyes wide open and fixed, he continued to scream, his body stiffened, then went limp. His breathing was more labored than during previous events. The screaming continued. Then, his eyes rolled into the back of his head and his whole body started to shake. He had gone into what appeared to be a seizure and could not be brought out of the depths of his night terror. An ambulance had to be called to rush him to the hospital. An EEG and other tests revealed no organic, chemical or medical reason for his night terror seizure. No signs of an actual seizure were detected. After a few hours of resting under observation at the hospital I took him home, where he slept fitfully in my arms. The next morning he said…”Mommy, the man. Scared!” I asked him what man he was talking about. Being only 18 months old he could not yet vocalize a more extensive answer. Later that day I placed him in his crib to play while I did some vacuuming. I was outside his door when I heard him say…”Hi, man.” I went in and asked him who he was talking to. He pointed to the corner of his room where his toy box was and said “The man.” This went on for weeks with him talking to “The man,” and pointing him out in various areas of the house. But, oddly enough, his night terrors had also stopped after that last one.
So, what explanation is one left with when all other possible causes have been ruled out by medical specialists? As far as I am concerned my son’s night terrors very well may have been induced by paranormal activity involving “the man.” Not so far-fetched when living in a house that had a history of being haunted for many years.