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Study: Childhood Sleep Terrors Inherited

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

Night terrors, which are a common childhood occurrence where a sleeping child suddenly starts inconsolably screaming, are at least partially inherited according to a new study.

The study done by researchers at Montreal’s Sacre-Coeur Hospital examined 390 sets of twins. The results, published in the December journal of Pediatrics, showed that identical twins were much more likely to both experience night terrors than fraternal twins. Identical twins have nearly identical genetic makeup, while fraternal twins do not. Twins are often studied because their similar genetic makeup can provide information about diseases and other issues.

Overall, researchers found that 37 percent of the twins studied had sleep terrors at 18 months of age with the problem disappearing a year later for about half of them. Researchers also said that environmental factors could be part of the cause of night terrors since the twins were being raised together in similar settings.

Earlier studies have shown that genetic factors are likely a factor in some cases of sleepwalking, sleep talking and night terrors. Another study has found that 19 percent of four to nine year-olds experienced sleep terrors.

Night terrors are normally brief but frightening with the child suddenly screaming. The child normally returns to sleep with little recollection of the incident.

More Information: Night Terrors & Nightmares

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