- Personal Health Information & Self-Help»
- Self-Help for Sleep Issues & Sleeplessness
Sleeping Disorders: Adult Night Terrors
sleep disorders - sleeping disorders
Nightmares and sleep terrors
I suffered from a sleep disorder that was very disturbing. A few years ago, I began having frequent bouts with nightmares. And these weren’t just bad dreams or even your garden variety nightmares, either. These were starkly detailed and truly terrifying dreams. I actually woke up screaming a couple of times. My heart would be racing and it would be difficult to catch my breath. I would also often be drenched in sweat. I usually couldn’t remember the nightmare until the next day or so, if I remembered it at all. These sleep terrors were really affecting my daily routine. I began to be afraid to go to sleep because I so feared the night terrors. And one I did drift off to sleep, I would often be haunted by the terrible dreams. I found out that sleep disorders can make your daily life pretty miserable. I was always tired and sleepy during my bout with night terrors, and sometimes the nightmares and their ghastly images remained in my mind for several days.
Sleep terror disorder
I went to see my primary care physician, and she told me I was most likely suffering from something called sleep terror disorder. I had most of the symptoms except for the detailed nightmares: rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, panic, perspiration, and awaking suddenly. Most people suffering from sleep terror disorder rarely recall details of their nightmares, but mine were often terrifyingly clear. Still, because of my other symptoms, my doctor felt that I was experiencing adult night terrors, or sleep terror disorder.
What causes adult night terrors
Sleeping disorders like sleep terrors are more common in children than they are in adults, according to the good doctor. I asked her what causes nightmares and sleep terrors. She said it could be a number of factors. With adults, unusual mental or emotional stress is often the cause of these adult night terrors. At the time, I wasn’t under any extraordinary stress, however. Another cause of adult night terrors, sleep terror disorder, and other sleeping disorders is not getting enough sleep. When grownups are sleep deprived, they’re more likely to have sleep terrors.
One of my adult night terrors
The worst of my adult night terrors remains indelibly printed on my brain. I dreamed I was in England during the middle ages, and it was market day. There had been a terrible drought that had caused the crops to fail, and most of the peasants were starving.
As I was walking through the market, I noticed that people were gathered around something, so I went over to take a look. There was a huge metal grill, about six-by-ten feet. A fire had been built underneath it, and a man dressed in rags was about to cook some meat on the grill. People were anxious to get some of the food.
Beside the grill was a huge pile of meat covered by a tarp of some sort, and when the man threw the tarp back, I saw what was underneath: human corpses. They were going to cook the bodies and eat them! I turned to run, and blocking my path was a toothless man with a beard who was skinning dogs to go on the grill. He grinned at me as he threw one of the canine corpses on the fire. This was so real to me that I still remember seeing the dog’s blood vessels under the skin and the way its teeth looked.
That must be when I woke up. My heart was pounding like a bass drum, and I thought for sure I would have a heart attack. I couldn’t go back to sleep after that, so I stayed up all night watching sitcoms on TV to take my mind off the night terror.
What caused my sleep terror disorder
My doctor and I discovered what was causing my sleep terror disorder. It was a medication I was taking – an SSRI. I was taking it right before I went to bed every night. The doc said as my body got used to the drug, the sleep terrors would probably abate. She said I might also be able to stop nightmares by taking the medication earlier in the day. It was more convenient for me to take pills at night when I wasn’t so rushed, but if changing my routine would stop nightmares, I was willing to re-arrange my daily schedule. Living with a sleep disorder was ruining my life.
I started taking the SSRI in the morning, before I went to work, and the sleep terrors stopped. I haven’t had any sleep terrors or even a really scary nightmare in over two years, so I guess I no longer suffer from sleep terror disorder. Thank goodness!
An update: I was switched from the SSRI I had been taking to an SSNRI, Cymbalta. Since I had nerve pain and nerve damage, my doctor thought this drug would kill two proverbial birds with one proverbial stone. Of course, I was concerned that a new drug would give new life to the old problem of sleep disorders. It didn't thankk goodness. I did have some very graphic dreams for a couple of weeks, but they couldn't really be classified as night terrors, or even nightmares. I have noticed, however, if I ever miss a dose of my Cymbalta, I'll have a nightmare, but not exactly a night terror.
Treating sleep terror disorder and adult night terrors
If you suffer from frequent terrifying nightmares, sleep terror disorder, or from other sleeping disorders, see your doctor. He may prescribe something like Valium to help you sleep soundly. Some doctors also suggest taking Benadryl, an over-the-counter antihistamine, to stop nightmares and these types of sleeping disorders.
Also, since stress seems to be a major cause of sleep terror disorder, you should take steps to reduce stress. This might include meditation, yoga, prayer, and other relaxation techniques. Moderate exercise is another way to reduce stress and anxiety.
If the drugs don’t help, your doctor might suggest that you see a psychotherapist or other counselor to help discover the root of your sleeping disorder. By all means, get the help you need. There's really no reason to be miserable and live with a sleep disorder. Sometimes sleep disorders will go away on their own, but why suffer needlessly? I found out quickly that the human body needs to sleep!
Read more about sleep disorders:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome
Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome The word apnea literally means without breath. Obstructive means that something is in the way. In the case of obstructive sleep apnea or obstructive sleep apnea...