How Can I Help My Friend With Her Night Terrors?

Published: December 04, 2013
Dear How Can I Help My Friend With Her Night Terrors?,
my best friend is getting over anxiety and depression. she talks to the school councelor and is medicated. but shes getting a lot better. she has these bad dreams that leave he screaming. I can relate because I used to but currently, but rarely have night terrors. How can I help her with the dreams and staying happy?

Dear How Can I Help My Friend With Her Night Terrors?,

TeenHealthFX wants to start by differentiating between a night terror and a nightmare. With nightmares the person wakes up from the dream and usually remembers details. And they certainly may wake up feeling sad or scared due to the content of the dream. However, a person having a night terror episode generally remains asleep and usually doesn’t remember anything about their night terror in the morning. While asleep during a night terror a person might sit up in bed, scream, kick, sweat, be hard to wake up, be inconsolable and may even sleepwalk.

Whether your friend is having night terrors or nightmares, TeenHealthFX can appreciate that this would feel extremely distressing for her. FX thinks that it is good that she has reached out for help with her school counselor, but if she is having these issues and is taking psychotropic medication, then it is important for her to be meeting with a reputable private therapist, such as a clinical social worker or clinical psychologist, as well. Ideally she should be meeting with a therapist at least once a week, although sometimes in the beginning of treatment it is actually helpful for people to come twice weekly depending on the severity of the issues they are dealing with.

As for how to help your friend, FX recommends that you encourage her to meet with a private therapist to address whatever stressors or anxieties are contributing to her night terrors or nightmares. Another way you can be helpful to your friend is to stay positive with her that things are going to get better. You can also invite her to do things with you that are fun and relaxing so she has some breaks from whatever is going on right now that might be leaving her feeling stressed or anxious. Finally, you can share the following with your friend that can help to reduce the intensity of nightmares or night terrors:

  • Fatigue can actually contribute to night terrors, so making sure you get enough sleep and are on a regular sleep schedule is helpful.
  • Come up with a relaxing bedtime routine that includes light reading, soaking in a warm bath, meditating or doing relaxation exercises.
  • Find ways to manage stress. Whether you journal, go running, have someone to talk to about the stress, or whatever else works for you – it’s important to have healthy coping mechanisms to minimize stress.

It sounds like what your friend is dealing with used to be an issue for you, but has gotten better over time. If you notice at any point that nightmares or night terrors return for you, or you need help coping with any stressors or anxieties in your life, then FX recommends that you reach out for help so that you get the guidance and support you need. This might include talking to your parents, meeting with a therapist, talking to a school counselor, or just letting your friends know what you need from them. It’s wonderful that you want to be there for your friend – but FX just wants to make sure that you continue to take care of yourself as well.

If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area.