Treatment for violent night terrors

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. I fall asleep at night and wake up bruised and stiff because I punch and kick and bite in my sleep. I have no recollection except occationally waking up feeling unable to breathe, or wimpering. Sometimes I wake up crying. I never remember my dreams, although I am on Amitryptaline this has occured since long before that. Could this be connected with my past abuse? I am now in a secure relationship, with a son, and life is fine, I feel comfortable with my past, its not nice, but it happened, and now its over. I am depressed, and I only found this stuff out when I started sleeping with my boyfriend because he told me. Before this I only thought I was clumsy and didn’t sleep well. Is it worth visiting my GP? (family doctor) or should I just put up with this? I can’t see anything helping and I can’t take heavy sleeping tablets incase my 2 year old son awakes in the night. Would some form of drugs or therapy help? and if so, what might be suggested?

A. This problem is certainly worth visiting your GP about and you should absolutely not put up with this. The fact that you are acting out aggressively at night, having nightmares, and so forth is abnormal. Your GP, after hearing these symptoms, should do at least one of two things: (1) refer you for a sleep study; and or (2) refer you to a doctor who specializes in the area of sleep disorders. I am not sure exactly what types of treatments are involved in this your situation but I have read and heard of treatments that do not involve heavy sleeping pills. My suggestion for you is to go see your GP, ask to be referred for a sleep study or to a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders and do not put this off thinking that “you’ll just get over it.” It is difficult to speculate about what would cause you to engage in violent behavior while you are sleeping and the reasons why are less important than finding a treatment to help you stop. I believe that you have a treatable situation but it first requires that you find a doctor that diagnoses the problem and can assist you with the proper treatment. Also, counseling might be very effective in helping you to get over this. Many therapists, especially psychoanalytic ones, believe that unresolved issues come to the mind during dreams. I hope this helps. Take care.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 Mar 2007

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2007). Treatment for violent night terrors. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 3, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/03/26/treatment-for-violent-night-terrors/