Night terrors, or sleep terrors, are a parasomnia, or undesired and abnormal behavior that occurs during sleep. Night terrors are distinctly different from nightmares, although they are such a rare issue that they aren’t well understood and are therefore often mistaken for bad dreams. Here’s a look at how night terrors happen and what some of the potential causes may be.
Exactly what instigates sleep terrors is difficult to pinpoint. There does, however, seem to be a significant genetic link to night terrors — a family history of sleep terrors means you are more likely to experience them. Additionally, a variety of medical conditions may impact the presence of night terrors. Hyperthyroidism, migraines, restless leg syndrome, sleep-disordered breathing (such as obstructive sleep apnea), fevers in childhood, encephalitis, and head injuries may all be causes of night terrors. Being extremely tired or not getting enough sleep may cause night terrors, as can sleeping in a new environment or with excessive lights and noise.
Stress can be a major cause of night terrors. While less than 2% of adults experience this particular parasomnia, it can develop in those who have a history of some mental illnesses. Sleepwalking and other parasomnias are often paired with night terrors, in fact, some people sleepwalk during periods of night terror. In large part, things that disrupt the way the brain functions or a predisposition for parasomnias seem to be the most common culprits for sleep terrors.
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