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‘My fiancé has night terrors which are affecting us both. What can we do?’

Clinical psychologist Jo Lamble answers your questions.

Question:

My fiancé suffers from night terrors. He might go two weeks without one or he’ll have two or more in one night, and they range from comical to downright scary.

As far as I’m aware, they happen when he’s stressed. He’s had them since he was a child and his siblings have them, too.

Besides not getting enough sleep, I’m worried it may affect his mental state if he’s constantly in an elevated state of panic. What do we do? How can I help him?

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Jo’s Answer:

I suggest he sees his GP. Although night terrors in adults are rare, they do happen for a proportion of the population.

It can be frightening for the partner of someone who has night terrors, but the person having them usually doesn’t remember them.

That’s because unlike a nightmare that occurs during REM or dream sleep, night terrors occur during our heaviest sleep stages, or non-REM sleep.

I’m suggesting he sees his GP because sometimes there is some underlying trauma, stress and anxiety, which should be addressed. It sounds like you’ve noticed a link between his stress levels and the frequency of his episodes.

Sometimes, there may be another sleep disorder, such as sleep apnoea, at play.

Sleep apnoea is a serious condition that requires treatment. Don’t try to wake him during a night terror because he may inadvertently hit out at you in fear. Remember that he is deeply asleep, so waking him could make him confused or distressed.

If he does wake, talk calmly to him and hopefully he will go back to sleep. If he tries to get up or walk around in confusion, guide him back to bed. But if he seems angry, step back and give him space.