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Night Terrors in Adults

Understanding the Underlying Causes of Night Terrors in Adults

Night terrors in adults require quick medical attention and can only be treated with a doctor's help. Read on for more.
Mukta Gaikwad
Last Updated: Jun 15, 2018
They sit up in bed, bolt right up, screaming. It's difficult to wake them up from sleep. They have no clue about what they are doing. Screaming, thrashing, and yelling, they try to fight imaginary dangerous situations. Statistics show that about 6.5% children and 2.2% adults experience this condition.
Night terrors develop at a very late stage in life. Night terror is parasomnia, or a category of sleep disorders, which is accompanied by undesired events that come along with sleeping. Night terrors in adults occur during any time of the sleep, but are usually seen in the first one hour of sleep.
Night terrors are known to have a strong genetic link. This is the main reason why it develops in children, but fades away with time. However, the cause for this condition in adults is mostly due to the psychological troubles listed here.
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Drastic lifestyle changes
  • Sleep Deprivation
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Migraine attacks
  • Head injury
  • Brain swelling or encephalitis
  • Premenstrual Syndrome
  • Bloated stomach
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Constant traveling
  • Alcohol use and abuse
  • Sleeping in disturbing conditions
  • Fever
  • Medical conditions
Night terrors are caused by chemical reactions in the brain. Lab tests show an increase in the brain activity which further leads to frightening dreams and this condition.
Night terrors are not nightmares. Nightmares are experienced by the sleeper in the fifth stage of REM sleep. This occurs when the sleeper is in the deepest slumber, but can be easily woken up. The person experiencing a nightmare may not remember it's details, however, he may remember that he had a nightmare.
Night terror occurs at any point of time, but it's generally stage four, and the sleeper cannot be woken up easily, the person may not even remember anything about the episode. The sleeper may stare with eyes wide open, but that does not mean he will wake. Adults suffering from this condition must see a doctor, so that the cause can be treated properly.
While diagnosing you will have to answer questions like:
  • Do your family members find it difficult to wake you up?
  • Do they question you about crying in the night, the next day?
  • Do you have a confused feeling when you wake up?
  • Do you suffer from sleepiness in the day time?
  • Are you on any sort of a medication?
  • Are you suffering from any kind of stress at work or at home?
  • He may also question you about your full medical history
The only way of treating this condition is with a doctor's help. Your doctor may ask you to maintain a sleep diary to understand you sleeping patterns. He may closely observe your sleeping schedule, your diet, and your lifestyle, to get to the root of the problem. You have to be open about all your problems with the doctor for getting the right treatment.
Night terrors can be scary for the family to deal with. An advice to them is, stay calm, and accept the problem to treat it well. Do not try and wake up the person, just watch over their safety. Carefully note the timings and things they say. Comfort the person and help him/her to cope with this trouble, so that they too can have a sound sleep once again.