Updated: Jun 13, 2020
If you experience night terrors and you feel that you are on your own, know this... you aren't alone, there is nothing wrong with you, and you are not "crazy".
Night terrors are not synonymous with bad dreams. A bad dream may wake you up frightened, a night terror can ruin your day, your week, your month...
Those of us who have experienced night terrors understand that not only are they a full body experience, but that they have a tremendous impact on our emotional and psychological well being.
Having tried numerous possible solutions to help with night terrors (including medication), I can tell you that one thing really made a long term difference. The solution was simply an understanding of what was happening to me. It was a huge help. Having this understanding of what was happening to me helped both my emotional and psychological state while I was awake, because the mystery had been solved.
When it comes to night terrors we can thank, in part at least, our dinosaur brain, the Amygdala. The Amygdala is what helps us stay safe from predators. This is where the Adrenaline dump comes from when we are frightened. The mind is an amazing thing, but in this case, its attempt at protecting us from future dangers is actually doing us harm. Allow me to explain...
Have you ever seen the classic movie "The Princess Bride"? Of course you have. Anyway, there is a part in the movie where Wesley and Buttercup are running from the Prince and his men, and they attempt to elude them by running into the Fire Swamp. Not far into the Fire Swamp, they hear two clicks and then fire bursts from the ground, setting fire to Buttercup's dress. Wesley puts out the fire and later explains to a nervous Buttercup that the fire is preceded by two clicks, and they can now easily avoid the fire.
Our brain learns as demonstrated by Wesley. Everytime Wesley hears two clicks, he helps Buttercup move out of dangers path. Let's assume for a minute that this experience became traumatic long term for Buttercup. One day, she is walking down the road in busy Los Angeles, California. As she is walking past a loading dock, she suddenly hears two clicks. She immediately screams, runs into the road, and begins jumping up and down. To the rest of the world, her reaction is "crazy". What it actually is, is PTSD caused by Buttercup's Traumatic experience in the Fire Swamp. She wasn't reacting to the trucks making clicking sounds, she was reacting to fire coming out of the ground. But why does her brain think she is in the Fire Swamp? It actually doesn't. All the brain remembers is that two clicks means extreme danger from the ground.
Now what does this have to do with night terrors? While we sleep, our brain continues to protect us. This is why we wake when something goes bump in the night. If Buttercup was experiencing night terrors, she might be reliving scenarios where she was attempting to protect herself from dangers from the ground.
As a police officer, I would dream almost nightly about needing my firearm to protect myself, a loved one, or someone whom I was duty bound to protect. In the instant that I needed deadly force to save the life of someone, I would attempt to pull the trigger, only to discover that my firearm would fail. As I have spoken to folks all around the country, for police officers and veterans, typically one of two things would happen; 1) they would pull the trigger and it would go "click", or 2) the trigger would not pull at all. I belong to the second category.
I have spoken with people who have experienced all kinds of trauma: First Responders, Veterans, Car Accident Victims, Victims of abuse or assault, etc. We all suffer the same. Not one trauma is better, worse, harder, or easier for folks who suffer from PTSD. If you are having night terrors, there are ways to help you, and I believe understanding is a great way to start.
Jorey is an expert on the areas of PTSD and Suicide Prevention. To book Jorey to speak, contact us at bookings@Jorey.us.