Pavor nocturnus, which is also known by the name 'night terror,' is a sleep disorder that typically occurs during slow-wave sleep (SWS). Those who suffer from pavor nocturnus will sometimes awaken very quickly from SWS, but fail to wake up all the way. In this in-between state, they often moan, thrash around, or scream uncontrollably, as if experiencing a terrible nightmare. They then tend to fall back into a state of SWS, without ever becoming conscious. It is thought that pavor nocturnus may be brought on by stress, hypoglycemia, or other factors, but the condition is not fully understood.
Adults rarely remember night terrors after waking up, so it is usually a friend, spouse, or other family member who actually witnesses the episodes. Since it is usually impossible to wake someone out of a night terror, this can be a stressful situation for the witness. Though the causes of pavor nocturnus are not fully understood, there may be a few steps that can be taken to reduce the frequency of episodes.
Night terrors may be related to stress and hypoglycemia, so reducing stress and making sure to adhere to a correct diet can help to reduce episodes. Being overtired can also bring on episodes in some people, so sticking to a regular sleep schedule may help. Since pavor nocturnus generally occurs during SWS, which a person usually enters at around the same time in each sleep cycle, waking the sufferer shortly before the attacks normally occur can be a short-term solution. Anti-depressant medications and psychotherapy have also been helpful to some individuals.
About 3% of adults suffer from periodic night terrors, though children are seemingly more susceptible to the condition, with those between the ages of two and eight being about three times more likely to exhibit symptoms. The condition may present slightly different symptoms in children. Whereas adults usually do not remember pavor nocturnus episodes, children are more likely to recall some portion of the events. They may also seem to hallucinate in the state, and tend to not recognize family members or friends that are present, even if they seem conscious and aware.
Children may experience recurring night terrors for a short period of time, after which they sometimes disappear with no explanation. They may recur at a later date, or may never occur again, accounting for the lower percentage of adults that experience the condition. Night terrors may also possibly be brought on by a high fever in children, or extreme exhaustion.