Night Terrors -or- Coping with Stress

Dream and sleep research is a vast field which includes a variety of phenomena. While nightmares have most likely plagued most of humanity since the beginning of civilization, the night terror is a phenomena that is less common. Below we find a parent who is concerned about the night terrors of his child.

Zack, 41

I'm submitting this in behalf of my son. He goes beyond the common dreams. He has night terrors.

He started at age 9. It was always about bugs or spiders. He would stand in his bed and scream. Throw the covers off to look for them. Run from his room because they were all over his body. This occured 3-4 times a week, 30 minutes into his sleep. He is now 11 he does not have them as often now but this last dream was about him being in a large bubble. I must mentioned he walked slowly into my bedroom talking in a panic tone he was in a bubble and could get out. It normally works if I call his name and tell him to wake up. I have to mention he never ever remembers any of his dreams.

Mr Hagen's Reply; Stress and Signal Anxiety -or- Threat Simulation Theory

Unlike nightmares, night terror sufferers usually have no recall of the episode. Night terrors are part of a larger group of sleep disorders known as the parasomnia's. While I am only speculating, it seems to me, there is some merit in thinking that night terrors may be caused by failed threat-security perceptions and behaviours. Revonsuo (see article link below) has developed an evolutionary theory of dreaming in which dreaming has evolved as a defense mechanism that attempts to rehearse life threatening and dangerous situations with the aim of mastery via behaviours directed towards safety. This idea would make sense from an evolutionary perspective since such a psychological process would provide Darwinian survival value.

The problem with "threat simulation theory of dreaming" is, that it is not a new one. Anna Freud had already postuated the psychological concept of "signal anxiety" in "The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense", whose biological function it is to warn of danger or threat to a person's psychological adaptive equilibrium. Let's give credit where credit is due. From the perspective of my own dreams, I have only experienced one night terror. I had already collected enough dreams by the middle of 1979, to realize that defense mechanisms and signal anxiety played an important role in my dream work and helping deal with psychologically stressful situations. Helping children to feel secure and master threatening, dangerous and stressful situations is paramount to their mental health. As a student the work of Karen Horney seemed relevant to these psychological problems. Horney believed that humans were motivated by the need for security developing a variety of coping strategies, not all of which are healthy.

Revonsuo, A., Valli, K. (2000). "Dreaming and consciousness: Testing the threat simulation theory of the function of dreaming." Psyche: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Consciousness, 6. Retrieved October 12, 2003.  

All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.