Night terrors, also known as sleep terror or pavor nocturnus, is a parasomnia sleep disorder characterized by extreme terror and a temporary inability to regain full consciousness. Night terrors happen during deep sleep .
The person wakes abruptly from the fourth stage of sleep, with waking usually accompanied by gasping, moaning, or screaming. It is often impossible to fully awaken the person, and after the episode the person normally settles back to sleep without waking.
Children from age four to six are most prone to night terrors, and they affect about three percent of all youngsters. A child having a night terror will often wake up screaming. He or she may be sweating and breathing fast.
At this point, your child may still be asleep, with open eyes. He or she will be confused and might not answer when you ask what's wrong. Your child may be difficult to wake. Episodes may recur for a couple of weeks then suddenly disappear.
They usually occur during the first couple of hours of sleep.
Strong evidence has shown that a predisposition to night terrors can be passed genetically. Though there are a multitude of triggers, emotional stress during the previous day and a high fever is thought to precipitate most episodes. Ensuring that the right amount of sleep is gained also seems to be important.
When most people speak of sleep terrors or night terrors, they are generally referring to what are called confusional arousals by most pediatric sleep experts. Confusional arousals are quite common, taking place in as many as 15% of child and nursery children.
They typically occur in the first third of the night on nights when the child is over-tired, or when the sleep-wake schedule has been irregular for several days. A confusional arousal begins with the child grousing and moving about.
It progresses quickly to the child crying out and beating violently. The eyes may be open or closed, and perspiration is common. The child will look confused, upset, or even "possessed".
Even if the child does call out her parents' names, she will not recognize them. She will appear to look right through them, unable to see them. Parental attempts to comfort the child by holding or cuddling tend to delay the situation.
Typically a confusional arousal will last for about ten minutes, although it may be as short as one minute, and it is not unusual for the episode to last for a seemingly everlasting forty minutes.
During these frightening episodes, the child is not dreaming and typically will have no memory of the incident afterwards. If any memory persists, it will be an unclear feeling of being chased, or of being trapped.
The incident itself seems to be a storm of neural emissions in which the child experiences a powerful flight or fight sensation. A child usually settles back to quiet sleep without difficulty.