It's highly unusual for adults to have night terrors; only a very small percentage of children ages 4-12 have them at all. A night terror is not exactly a nightmare. Often, the person having the night terror has no memory of it. When an individual has a night terror, they sit "bolt upright" with their eyes wide open. But the individual is not awake. The person may scream or express what seems like some kind of fear or anxiety in garbled language that's hard to understand. The sleeper is often inconsolable and only calms down when fully awake. Sometimes night terrors even result in sleep walking or other unusual activities.
There is a familial link to children with night terrors. Adults with night terrors are often found to have suffered some kind of traumatic experience or high-level of stress and anxiety preceding the episodes. It can also be a symptom of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD) in adults.
As you might imagine, the chances of getting a restful sleep with night terrors is difficult. Lack of sleep can often lower dopamine levels, causing feelings of depression and anxiety--which in turn increase an individual's chance of experiencing acute psychological trauma or injury.
Adults who experienced abuse and/or neglect as children are at a higher risk for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Individuals who have experienced combat, rape, a life-threatening situation, or natural disaster are also at higher risk. People with PTSD often have thoughts of suicide, can feel emotionally numb, ineffective, and disconnected. And PTSD doesn't always show up right away...sometimes, it occurs years after the initial trauma.
PTSD can last for months, even years. And so can the headaches, nightmares and terrors that coincide with it. Can you imagine that? YEARS of night terrors? YEARS of headaches? And that's with previously healthy individuals. No studies have yet been done on PTSD in people whose health was previously compromised by something like cancer PRIOR to the event that kicked off the PTSD. Like me.
The frustrating thing is, I know who did this to me. And I know why. But it doesn't exactly help. In many ways, I think it makes it all worse. We can dive into the wreck all we want, but the bottom line is--it's not the real problem. The real problem is with the consistent, sustained efforts of others to cause harm with at least a modicum of deliberation.
Who would do this? They're not monsters, vampires, or other blood-sucking phantoms. They're humans. Like you. Like me.
But unlike me, these people feel pleasure when hurting others. And no, I'm not just saying that. It's true:
Studies in neuro-psychology have shown that in a certain percentage of people given images of pain and suffering, the pleasure-center of their brains became engaged. Meaning, pain made them happy. Seeing suffering caused them joy.
Did you know that prior to the presence of empirical-based medicine, children with night terrors were thought to be possessed by Satan? Of course, at one point in history, simply having a vagina was enough evidence to prove one was a witch. Or being left-handed. In fact, the word for "left" in Latin is "sinister."
But it seems to me that the truly sinister in our society are the subtle sociopaths in our midsts...the ones who villify, accuse, and otherwise keep score; the ones LOOKING to cause pain and suffering.
I don't think people who lack a conscience have night terrors. Too bad, too. Because those individuals need a taste of humility. But only those with a soul can feel pain, can suffer. The people who enjoy seeing pain and suffering are soul-less and, ultimately, very sad creatures. Emerging research continues to find strong evidence that a great deal of what we think of as social behaviors--everything from your sweet tooth to your ability to commit--has more to do with genetics than anything else.
Does that then mean that the soul is written into our very DNA?
Makes one wonder if we are also pre-programmed to go to heaven...or in some cases, hell.
Perhaps there will yet be opportunities for those who enjoy causing pain and suffering to understand what it is to have night terrors, but instead of mere minutes, the experience will last an eternity....