Night terrors are a common preschool-aged sleep disorder in which a child quickly wakes up from sleep in a terrified state. For the majority of these episodes, the child will not have any recollection of this event ever happening.
A night terror is considered a parasomnia due to its characterization of unusual physical and verbal behaviors. Parasomnias can often occur during any stage of sleep; however, night terrors specifically are associated with non-rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stages in which the person or child is in a transitional state in between sleep and wakefulness.
The act of sleeping can be categorically broken down into several stages and states. There are three primary states of sleep consisting of (1) wake, (2) non-REM sleep, and (3) REM sleep. Within these states, they are further broken down into the separate stages. Sleep stages 1, 2, 3, and 4 are considered non-REM sleep while stage 5 is considered REM sleep. The different sleep stages represent different electrical patterns and frequencies in the brain that can be detected and measured with an electroencephalogram (EEG). These states and stages can overlap each other, and it is during these transition states where parasomnias can occur.
Night terrors can cause severe distress, followed by a state of panic and a sensation of helplessness. Most episodes last 45-90 minutes and are most common as the individual passes through stages 3 and 4 non-rapid eye movement sleep. Night terrors are most common in between ages 4 until puberty.
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