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Night terrors are more severe than nightmares, where the sufferer will experience complete terror. They generally last anywhere from 30 seconds and up to 3 minutes, but sometimes the episodes can last longer.

Testing And Diagnosis

When night terrors are particularly stressful and terrorizing, they may need to be investigated to try and identify the underlying cause. A doctor will usually start out by asking questions about the terrors and the sleep cycle, and may do some routine blood tests to rule out any physiological problem.

In some cases, the person or child may be referred for a sleep study, where they will stay the night in a special laboratory and be monitored and have certain brain measurements done during their sleep. Typically they look at blood oxygen levels, brain waves, breathing patterns, heart rate, and movements of the legs and eyes. The purpose of this study is to see if there are any specific sleep disorders such as restless leg syndrome and apnea.

Treatment Options

There is no specific medical treatment for night terrors unless there is an underlying medical problem.  Night terrors can affect not only the child but also the parent and siblings, as they can disrupt others from sleeping, and it is distressing to see your child going through them.  Here are some ideas on how to help your child get through night terrors:

  • Don’t attempt to wake the dreamer up
  • Hold your child to comfort them
  • Say soft and soothing comments
  • If your child is sleepwalking, carefully direct them back to bed
  • Make sure babysitters and caregivers know what to do
  • Don’t let your child become over-tired

Adults can also suffer from night terrors, but it is not as common as it is with children. However, they can be just as terrifying, and the sleep disruption can have a great impact on your ability to function the next day. Here are a few methods and tips to help you manage your night terrors:

  • Make sure all doors and windows are locked
  • Remove anything that could be tripped over
  • Identify stressors and find ways to manage them
  • Try and get more sleep, even if it means napping in the day time
  • Keep a diary of when the night terrors occur, to try and identify a pattern

When To Seek Help

Although there is no definitive medical treatment, you still need to notify your or your child’s doctor if there contributing factors or effects of the night terrors. When sleep is interrupted regularly, this can interfere with the normal functions of the body, and sleep therapy may be required.

If the episodes are lasting more than half an hour at a time on a regular basis you should inform the doctor. Although the terror is not a danger within itself, there is the risk of harming oneself through the sleepwalking or thrashing about, so if you or your child are suffering night terrors, talk to your doctor and see what options are available. 

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