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Dear Dr. Gott: I wanted to write to you in the hopes of helping someone else with my problem, night terrors.

I started having them about five years ago, and it got to be that I was having them almost every night. Some nights I would have several. Mine weren’t as severe as others I had seen on television, but they were bad enough to make me jump out of bed and practically leave the room to escape the spiders on the bed, the collapsing ceiling or whatever I believed was about to take my life. I lived with this for a while, thinking I was just losing my mind. I didn’t know what else to do. Even my primary-care physician couldn’t suggest anything.

Dr. Gott

Then I discovered melatonin. I started taking 1 milligram before bed, and soon, the night terrors started to diminish. It’s been a few years now, and I have had to increase the dosage to 3 milligrams a night. As long as I continue to take the melatonin, I don’t have any terrors.

A few months ago, I ran out and didn’t buy more for a couple of days. The night terrors came back. Now I am careful not to run out. It is safe and inexpensive. I thought you might find this interesting and possibly would recommend it to those with this very frustrating affliction.

DEAR READER: I am glad to hear that you have resolved your problem in an easy, inexpensive and safe way. I am passing your experience on to my readers.

Night terrors cause the sufferer to awake in panic. They are more common in boys ages 3 to 5 but can occur in anyone of any age. The major differences between a nightmare and a night terror are the time and stage of sleep in which it occurs. Nightmares generally happen during the REM (rapid eye movement) period of sleep and in the early-morning hours. Night terrors occur during stage 3 (deep sleep) and stage 4 (deepest sleep). They also generally occur within the first 60 minutes of falling asleep.

Symptoms of a night terror include sudden awakening from sleep, sweating, confusion, rapid heart rate (usually between 160 to 170 beats per minute), screaming, persistent fear that occurs at night and an inability to wake up fully (but eyes may be open). One of the most characteristic symptoms is not remembering the night terror. Some people remember parts of the “dream.” Some may even be able to remember the whole thing, but, in general, there is no recollection. Once the night terror occurs, the person may sit up and appear to be awake; however, this is not always the case. The sufferer may still be in the midst of the terror but unable to explain what is happening and usually is difficult to comfort. Physical contact occasionally worsens the experience.

Often, the night terrors are about people or animals. Most sufferers who can remember the terrors describe the person or animal as dark, shadowy and threatening. They believe that it is going to cause them harm.

Night terrors can be troublesome. There is no test for diagnosis, and medical treatment is not generally used or recommended. For severe cases, therapy and counseling may be helpful. Minimizing risk factors, such as stress, and obtaining appropriate amounts of sleep can reduce the frequency, diminish severity and end the night terrors.

For readers who are interested in this subject, I recommend the Web site www.nightterrors.org. This site was created by a gentleman who suffers night terrors and started researching the subject. I should mention that he is not (to my knowledge) a physician or scientific researcher. But he has done fairly extensive research using well-known medical publications such as the Journal of American Medicine and the British Medical Journal. I also recommend that you speak to your primary-care physician, a psychiatrist or psychologist and continue the melatonin therapy. Please let me know whether melatonin is successful.

Peter H. Gott, M.D. is a retired physician and the author of the book Dr. Gott’s No Flour, No Sugar Diet, available at most chain and independent bookstores, and the recently published Dr. Gott’s No Flour, No Sugar Cookbook.

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