cure for terrors

Hi Kim—

I am delighted to hear from yet another “night terrors” sufferer who finds that keeping a light on either helps to prevent an episode, or has a calming effect during an event. Leaving a light on is not a well known “treatment” for night terrors, and it certainly is welcome news to anyone who experiences these bizarre “attacks.”

Night terrors often are confused for nightmares, but the two arousals from sleep actually are not related. Nightmares occur during dreaming or REM sleep, and usually have long plot lines involving chase, attack or other distress. Nightmares also usually are remembered vividly, as we are forced into an abrupt awakening at their conclusion.

Night terrors, on the other hand, occur during very deep, non-dreaming sleep (usually in the first three hours of sleep), and typically are characterized by a single, dominating feeling or dream image. The sufferer of a night terror may feel like the walls are collapsing and that he is in danger of being crushed. Or, like yourself, she may see spiders or someone in the room. Night terrors, however, most often are not recalled, because usually the sufferer never fully awakens during the event.

Night terrors occur when the brain gets stuck, as it were, between sleeping and waking. Part of the brain wakes up—this is the arousal we see—while the other part remains deeply asleep. This awake/asleep state explains the confusion and disorientation of people during a night terror, and it explains why it is so difficult to wake them to calm them. (They’re very deeply asleep!) Indeed, much of the panic of a night terror appears to be caused by the disorientation of this “half-awake, half-asleep” state, which often is relieved by light.

For more information on night terrors, please visit the Walking, Talking & Terrors page, where you will find links to specialty websites about night terrorsand also some recommended books on the subject.  In the meantime, it appears you are in very good hands with your supportive fiance. Congratulations—and don’t forget to leave a light on!

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