A reader writes:
Hello Dr. Rosen,
I am a bit worried about my cousin. He is eight years old and plays violent video games and has been having lots of night terrors. I was wondering if playing these violent games (and watching horror movies) have anything to do with the night terrors?
That’s a great question. I think they are certainly connected. I’m not sure exactly what you’re referring to when you write night terrors, and whether you might instead mean nightmares. Night terrors are a form of confusional arousal that generally occur out of deep sleep in the first few hours of sleep, during which the person experiencing them appears confused and disoriented. Night terrors often last from 5-20 minutes, and in the morning there is no recollection of them (by the one who has them: everyone else remembers them!).
Nightmares, on the other hand, usually occur in the second half of the night, and arise out of deep sleep. Nightmares are often very vivid, and the person who has just had a nightmare usually recalls the content, often for days or even years afterward.
Exposure to disturbing media or themes can certainly trigger both night terrors and nightmares, as well as other sleep disturbances. This extends to video games as well: a recent Australian study found that adolescents who played video games prior to sleep suffered a “significant disruption” to their sleep that was directly proportional to the amount of time played.
So yes, your cousin’s gaming and choice of movies may indeed be adversely affecting his sleep, and that he would be a lot better off if instead of those he got into the habit of quietly reading in bed for 30 minutes before turning off his reading light and going to sleep.
Dennis Rosen, M.D.
Help your child get a great night's sleep with:
Successful Sleep Strategies for Kids (a Harvard Medical School Guide)