Nightmares can be a scary situation, and just about everyone has a nightmare at some point, even though they are more common for children than adults. However, night terrors are a completely different thing altogether, and night terrors can affect adults as well as children. According to the Mayo Clinic, sleep terrors are episodes of screaming, intense fear, and flailing while still asleep.
Additionally, these episodes can be accompanied by sleepwalking, which can make night terrors even more alarming. A lot of research has been done in the field of sleep medicine to better understand why people have night terrors, but there are some common potential causes of which many sufferers should be aware:
Alcohol is a depressant and does have an effect on the overall sleep cycle, especially if you fall asleep while heavily intoxicated. If you commonly have alcohol in the hours leading up to bedtime, it could very well be the root cause of your night terrors. For people who have an alcohol dependency, not drinking alcohol before bed can actually be a contributing factor to night terrors. It is common for people experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms during rehabilitation to have some experience with sleep interruptions due to night terrors.
If you go for a long time without sleeping, or if you go for several days without getting enough sleep, you can become more prone to experiencing night terrors. The cause of this relationship between sleep deprivation and night terrors is fairly logical if you think about it: your body responds to sleep differently when you are extremely tired. Many people find themselves restless and not sleeping soundly when they try to sleep after missing a night of sleep or not getting enough sleep for a certain span of time.
While sleep-inducing medications are extremely helpful for patients who have a hard time sleeping, they can also be a contributing factor to night terrors. Medications that induce sleep force the body to fall asleep in an unnatural way, which means all bodily systems may not react as they normally would during natural sleep; even over-the-counter sleep aids can have the same effects. Therefore, sleep aids are not a common medicinal treatment for people who have night terrors because they can actually exacerbate the problem instead of helping it. Instead, doctors may prescribe something like a mild antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication to induce a calmed and more content state at bedtime.