A topic that’s come up over and over again on the Embarrassing Bodies website is night terrors and what’s the difference between night terrors and nightmares. Well, to understand that we need to understand a little bit about normal sleep patterns and when we sleep we go through two very distinct phases. Rapid eye movement sleep which is when we dream and non rapid eye movement sleep which is a deeper sleep and it’s in the deepest parts of that non rapid eye movement sleep that we might develop night terrors. And because they occur in our deepest sleep, often individuals will have absolutely no recollection of what’s happened whereas because we dream in our lighter sleep we often recall dreams and nightmares.
Question here from a 23 year old girl who says that she’s often woken up outside of bed talking to people that aren’t there and that often this is worse when she’s just started a new job, is that significant? Yes, it is and actually night terrors are relatively common in children but they’re not common in adults and if they start a fresh in adulthood it’s usually a sign that that individual is in distress.
And a few of you have commented that when you’re very angry about things your night terrors seem to get worse and that fits with the idea when we’re stressed night terrors are often worse. Maybe granny knew a thing or two when she said don’t go to sleep on an argument.
We’ve had some suggestion on the website that sleeping on your back could make night terrors worse. In fact we all move around during a night’s sleep so don’t get too hung up on which position you go to sleep in, it’s much better that your just comfortable.
And we have lots of questions from parents of young children who suffer with night terrors wondering about how you should manage these. The first thing to say is that most kids will just grow out of this. But in the meantime if your child is tending to walk whilst they’re having a night terror make sure that the environment is safe so they don’t injure themselves.
And a question here from someone who says is it true that it’s dangerous to wake someone up if you find them sleepwalking? It’s not dangerous but remember your sleepwalking in your deepest sleep so if you wake someone rapidly you’re going to find that they’re likely to be very panicky and disorientated. It’s much better if you just guide them back to their room and let them continue sleeping.
Another common question is that people finding that they jerk their legs just as they are falling off to sleep. Actually its normal and very common, it’s called hypnogogic movements and its nothing to worry about.
Doctor Responses: Night Terrors
Loads of you have asked questions about night terrors and sleepwalking, so Dr Dawn has taken time out to answer some of your most pressing queries.
The majority of these questions were submitted on our condition guide to night terrors and sleepwalking.
Comments and Questions
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Please note: Unfortunately Channel 4 cannot respond to individual inquiries. If you have any concerns, you can check out NHS Choices, but ultimately it is always best to check with a health professional.