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You Might Have Night Terrors and Not Know It...

November 17, 2017

How would you know and what do you do?

Let’s clarify. We’re not talking about nightmares. Nightmares are a relatively common occurrence and half the population is likely to have, on average, one per month (according to the American Sleep Association). Although each person’s nightmare presents in a unique fashion, they mostly take the form of a somewhat recognizable (often surreal) scenario that progresses through images and sound - like a movie. They tend to build gradually toward a traumatic event and you mostly wake up just before the... thingy... hits the fan (or you hit the ground or whatever). The next morning, you can mostly remember that you’ve had a nightmare, even if you’re stumped for the details. Not night terrors, oh no...

For starters, they’re rare. One in ten people might have just one in their entire life and that during childhood. Night terrors come from a completely different place than nightmares. If you’re going to have a nightmare, you usually have it during the first part of the night, while you’re experiencing REM sleep. Your brain is still somewhat active and, when it gets bored, starts to entertain your sleeping self with its own B-movie channel. Night terrors, on the other hand, traditionally occur during the second half of the night, when your brain has quieted down and its more sophisticated bits (the Steven Kings and M. Night Shyamalans) have gone home. What you’re left with is the primal, unreasoning bit of your brain that doesn’t know about technicolor or surround sound. It just knows fear.

It doesn’t need a run-up. It doesn’t bother with niceties like plot, images or anything else remotely recognizable. It will simply hit you like a shot of adrenaline and you’ll go from zero to mortally terrified in one instant flat. The worst part? You don’t know this. You don’t remember this. This is because (unlike with a nightmare) you don’t really wake up during a night terror - your brain is too far gone to sleep. If you live / sleep alone, you might have been having night terrors for years and not know it.

Have you ever had a massive shock? Like you were sure you were going to hit someone with your car but didn’t? Or the 49” TV slipped while you were moving it but didn’t fall? Remember how jittery and emotionally exhausted you felt in the wake of that scare? Imagine feeling like that every day and not knowing why. There are telltale signs of course, not least of which is feeling drained and unfocused during the day. You might notice bruises you don’t remember getting (from thrashing in your sleep). You might be one of the lucky ones and have a partner (unlucky sod) tell you you were fit to be tied in the dead of night.

The sad part is, there’s nothing you can do for someone who is in the midst of a night terror. In this way, night terrors are similar to sleep-walking or sleep-talking. These three behaviors share a programming slot and people who suffer from the latter two are much more likely to succumb to the former. You can’t comfort someone having a night terror, because they’re technically not awake. In fact, they might not even recognize you and could even turn violent if approached. The best thing is to remove dangerous objects from the room and not let them leave (night terrors, sleep-talking and sleep-walking sometimes happen all at once) until they go back to sleep.

So what should you do? For nightmares, avoid eating before going to bed as this will keep your metabolism (and therefore your brain) active and in gear for churning out nightmares. Night terrors are more tricky. You might try moving your mattress to the floor and removing sharp object from the room (so you don’t injure yourself or another). Confine yourself to a sleeping bag or, if you want to avoid the night terror altogether, have someone help you map your sleep pattern and set an alarm to go off before it goes curtain-up on your terror. Then go straight back to sleep. If you experience sleep-walking in conjunction with night terrors, maybe alarm your doors. (And definitely see a doctor.)

Lack of sleep is a major contributor to the likelihood of having a nightmare / night terror. The best preventative measure is to stock up on sleep. And the best way to ensure loads of sleep is to ensure that your bed is somewhere you want to be. Browse over to our online store and find your perfect mattress, pillows and bedding today. Don’t be afraid to go to bed. Let us help you make your bedtime a dream-come-true.

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