What causes night terrors?

This question was asked in Beaumont, Texas on 11/07/2012.
I wake up during the night thinking that I have only a limited time to live if I don't get the numbers right on a monitor. This is getting more frequent and I get up and run looking for the answer, last night I couldn't remember my name. What could cause these night terrors? Will a sleep study help?

Doctors Answers (3)

Richard J. Schumann Jr., MD
Answered on: 11/12/2012

Night terrors are a type of sleep disorder or parasomnia that involve awakening from sleep because of intense and vivid dreaming that causes severe distress and anxiety even after the patient has been awakened. They usually occur in non-REM sleep and in the first third of the night. Patient can be inconsolable and this disorder can be treated with medication i.e. Klonopin if the spells are intactible. Other things to think about include seizures, Post traumatic stress disorder or a mood disorder. This condition should be evaluated by a sleep specialist.

J. Douglas Hudson, MD, DABSM
Answered on: 11/12/2012

No one knows the exact cause of night terrors. They usually occur during the deepest stage of sleep (Stage 3) as opposed to nightmares which usually occur during a much lighter stage of sleep (REM). Night terrors can be a lifelong problem, may be common in family members, can be aggravated by medications and stress but so do many medical disorders. The cause is not stress or psychological. There is some unknown anatomical dissociation of sleep staging and usual bodily function. A sleep study can help if the terrors are very common but if they only occur on occasion then they would likely be missed. If they occur during a sleep study it helps to confirm the stage of sleep during which they occur. Prazosin, an older blood pressure medication, often eliminates the terrors.

Jeannine Louise Gingras, MD
Answered on: 11/8/2012

These episodes do not sound like sleep terrors as you recall them. They sou d more like nocturnal panic attacks but I would need more history to diagnose. Do you have a sleep. Clinic in your area. I would suggest an evaluation.