Night terrors, or sleep terrors, are a sleep disorder that causes a sleep disruption similar to a nightmare but often includes episodes of flailing, screaming, and intense fear. Night terrors are also often accompanied by sleepwalking. While night terrors are more common in children, they can also occur in adults. Episodes normally last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes but have been known to last even longer.
Sleep terrors are pretty rare and normally only affect a small percentage of children and an even smaller percentage of adults. While frightening, night terrors are not generally cause for concern; most kids will outgrow them by their teens. Night terrors may however require treatment if they are causing problems with the required amount of sleep or begin to be a safety risk.
Night Terrors Symptoms & Causes
Night terrors are not the same as nightmares. Often, people wake from nightmares and can remember details but people who are having night terrors stay asleep, and don’t normally remember them in the morning. Night terrors also differ from nightmares in that they occur in the first half of the night whereas nightmares normally occur during the last half of the night. People who are having night terrors may scream, flail, sit up in bed, sweat, run around, and may even exhibit aggressive behavior. The occasional sleep terror is not usually a cause for concern but if they become more frequent, begin to disrupt sleep, or cause fear of sleep, it may be necessary to speak with a doctor.
The are many factors that can contribute to night terrors including stress, sleep deprivation, fever, and more. They can sometimes be associated with underlying conditions such as migraines, sleep apnea, and even some medications. Night terrors sometimes run in families and research has shown that some adults who experience sleep terrors have a history of anxiety or depressive disorders.
Some people who have night terrors may experience complications such as injuries as people often sleepwalk or may flail around and injure themselves during an episode. Night terrors can also disrupt normal sleep, resulting in sleepiness during the day.
Night Terrors Diagnosis
Night terrors are normally diagnosed by doctors based on the patient’s description of events. Doctors may choose to do a psychological or physical exam to identify any conditions that may be contributing to night terrors. If the diagnosis is unclear, doctors may recommend a sleep study. Infrequent sleep terrors do not generally require treatment. Treatment, however, may be needed if night terrors begin to cause significant disruption. Treatment options include improving sleep habits, treating any underlying conditions, and in rare cases, the use of medication.
In addition to speaking with a doctor, there are things people can do at home to try and reduce instances of night terrors. Fatigue can cause terrors so getting more sleep can be beneficial. Finding healthy ways to deal with stress is also recommended.
To learn more about night terrors, visit the pages below.
- Night Terrors in Children
- Medical Reference Guide – Night Terrors
- Paroxysmal Disorder – Night Terrors
- Nightmares and Night Terrors
- My Child Has Night Terrors, What Can I Do?
- Sleepwalking/Night Terrors Syndrome in Adults
- What Are Night Terrors?
- For Parents – Night Terrors
- Night Terrors – Why They Happen and What To Do About Them
- Sleep Terrors – Overviews and Facts
- Nightmares and Night Terrors in Preschoolers
- How to Stop Nightmares and Night Terrors
- Sleep Terrors Overview
- Adult Night Terrors
- Night Terrors Resource Center