Childhood sleep terrors inherited2nd December 2008
Studies of the prevalence of night terrors, also called sleep terrors, have shown mixed results.
Recently, however, a study led by Jacques Montplaisir of Sacre-Coeur Hospital in Montreal has linked the occurrence of night terrors in children to genetics in about 40% of cases.
In a night terror, the subject wakes abruptly from slow-wave sleep gasping, moaning, or screaming.
A child suffering from night terrors is confused, disoriented, and cannot be consoled.
When left alone the child re-enters the sleep state, forgetting the episode in the morning.
The recent study has shown that a child's risk of sudden awakenings decreases by one half after it reaches two and a half years.
Night terrors may also occur during adulthood, although the condition often peaks in childhood and disappears before adolescence is reached.
In the investigation examining the possible genetic causes of night terrors, Montplaisir and his team surveyed the mothers of 390 twin pairs.
Studying identical twins allows researchers to compare the interaction of the human genome with the environment around it.
This is because identical twins share practically all of the same genes, while fraternal twins share about half.
These twin pairs had been followed since birth as part of the Quebec Newborn Twin Study.
In total, 36.9% of children had sudden arousal with screams, sometimes with confusion and sweating at 18 months of age.
By 30 months, only 19.7% of the same children under observation experienced night terrors.
Montplaisir and his team determined that 43.7% of a child's risk of night terrors was genetic at 18 months, and 41.5% of risk was genetic at 30 months, by comparing the frequency of occurrence among identical and fraternal twins.
Environmental factors not shared by the twin pairs were responsible for the remaining risk.
Such possibilities could include one child having been hospitalised while the other was not, or one having been given a particular medication.
Because the researchers did not rely on the expertise of doctors, but on mothers' reports of their own children, Montplaisir and his team add that their findings should be interpreted with caution.
Notwithstanding, the team of researchers reached the conclusion that their results demonstrate substantial genetic factors in connection with the occurrence of night terrors.
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