Night Terrors

What is a Night Terror or Sleep Terror?

Night terrors, or sleep terrors, are specific terminology for episodes that, especially in children, trigger anxiety at night. They are unlike nightmares. For the person that has them and for their families, they may be distressing. Although people speak of “night terrors,” according to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, this is not necessarily a diagnosable disorder (DSM-V)It includes elements of conditions such as nightmare disorder, REM sleep behavior disorder, and Sleep Arousal Disorder (NREM) Non-Rapid Eye Movement. While nightly episodes can be disturbing, night terrors are typically not a sign of anything more extreme. As they begin, they seem to end as abruptly. Suddenly, while sleeping, a person experiencing night terror will begin to display signs of fear and terror, such as crying, flailing, or kicking. This is usually followed by other signs, such as quick heart rate and breathing, skin flushing, sweating, pupil dilation, and muscle tension.

Night terrors are nocturnal episodes that, when sleeping, trigger great fear. The person can flail his limbs and scream and shout. Usually, a typical attack lasts between 30 seconds and 3 minutes, but they may be considerably longer. Night terrors are uncomfortable, but generally, they are not a cause for medical concern. Around 40 percent of children and a smaller number of adults are estimated to be affected by them.

Night Terrors in Adults

Night terrors are most common in young children, but adults can also be affected by them. At any moment during the sleep cycle, an adult may have night terrors, and they are more likely to recall the dream than children do.

Adults are more likely to suffer night terrors if they have a history of having:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety


Night terrors may often lead to injury to the individual or others, especially if they also thrash around or go sleepwalking. During night terrors, an adult is more likely to show violent conduct than an infant. Adults may even become embarrassed by their sleeping actions, and relationships may be influenced by this. Anyone worried about night terrors may consider seeing a specialist for sleep disorders.

What Causes Night Terrors?

Night terrors can lead to a number of factors. They include:

  • Fever, especially in children
  • Stress
  • Deprivation of sleep Light or sound
  • A full bladder
  • Spending the night somewhere unfamiliar
  • Genetic influences
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Emotional or physical stress
  • Abuse or use of such drugs or alcohol


Research of approximately 7,000 children aged 8 to 10 years, with a follow-up at age 13, found in 2014 that those who were bullied were more than twice as likely to suffer night terrors. In addition, other underlying disorders, such as breathing problems while sleeping, such as sleep apnea, migraine, head trauma, restless leg syndrome, and some drugs, are also associated with night terrors. Research that tested 661 individuals, aged 43-89 years, with Parkinson’s disease, recorded that 3.9% had night terrors. Moreover, 17.2% had nightmares, and sleepwalking was experienced by 1.8%.

The following factors may also play a position.


It appears that night terrors and sleepwalking are associated. Both happen during slow-wave sleep, the deepest phases of sleep that occur in the early part of the night. Some researchers suggest that it could be hard for individuals who experience sleepwalking or night terrors to sustain slow-wave sleep. This makes them vulnerable to sudden excitement and raises the risk of parasomnia.

Thalamic Dysfunction

Lesions in the brain are an unlikely source of night terrors. However, damage to or malfunction of the thalamus has been attributed to this syndrome in some instances. In one report, at the age of 48 years, a woman started experiencing frequent night terrors. To investigate the cause, she underwent observation in a sleep lab. An increased signal coming from the thalamus was seen in the experiments. The micro-arousals reminiscent of night terrors tended to trigger this. In maintaining sleep-wake cycles, the thalamus is thought to play a key role. It also serves to dampen the signals, including those of hearing, that usually comes from the senses as we sleep.

Much of the input our brain receives from the outside world passes through the thalamus. The thalamus is less likely to transmit this information to the rest of the brain while we are sleeping. As a result, we are less mindful of tactile sensations and the noises around us when we sleep.

Genetic factors

A family member who often does this also has people who have night terrors or who sleepwalk. A small study in 1980 found that 80% of sleepwalkers and 96% of people with night terrors had at least one other immediate family member who had one or both circumstances. This finding was confirmed by another investigation that focused on identical and non-identical twins.

The researchers have discovered that if their identical twin has night terror, a person is substantially more likely to experience it. The probability of this occurring is smaller in non-identical twins.

A long-term analysis of 1,940 children released in 2015 showed that those whose parents walked in their sleep were more likely to experience night terrors and that those night terrors were more likely to continue for longer. It was found that the highest age for night terrors in childhood was 18 months. At this age, parents recorded that 34.4 percent of kids had night terrors. Later in life, up to a third of children who suffered night terrors develop sleepwalking patterns.


Sitting in bed and moaning is always the first symptom of terror at night. Also, you might:

  • Howl or scream
  • Stare blankly
  • In-bed flail or thrash
  • Breathe swiftly
  • Get an elevated heart rate
  • Flush and sweaty
  • Appears confused
  • Get up, hop on your bed, or just run around the room.

If a partner or family member attempts to prevent you from stopping them running or jumping, they can become violent. Night terrors usually happen early in the night, within the first half of your sleeping time. This is when you are in non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, also called slow-wave sleep, in stages 3 and 4. It is rare to have them in one night twice, but it can happen.

Night terrors usually only last for a few seconds to a minute but can continue for 10 minutes or more. People usually lay back down and sleep after a night of terror, not recalling the episode when they wake up in the morning. On a daily basis, or only a few times per year, you can encounter them.

Nightmares vs Night Terrors

Nightmares are unpleasant or terrifying dreams that cause psychological distress. Nightmares typically occur during REM sleep, unlike night terrors, and do not involve physical or vocal behavior. The specifics or emotions of the nightmare are widely recalled, and some may even become repeated dreams.

Both nightmares and night terrors usually begin in childhood. 10 percent to 50 percent of children aged 3 to 5 are reported to have nightmares that are serious enough to upset parents or caregivers. Although night terrors are considered less prevalent, rates of prevalence are not well recorded. The prevalence in children with this disorder has been reported as 1-6.5 percent in general. One research, however, found up to 40 percent of kids under the age of 5 reported night terrors.

How Are They Diagnosed?

Night terrors are often difficult to detect in adults because they don’t occur frequently. Plus, individuals sometimes don’t recall getting them. But if you think you might have them, or someone else has seen you have them, make an appointment with your care provider.

For a short time, they can ask you to keep a sleep diary to help rule out sleep deprivation or other problems. They can help to provide information about the episodes if you sleep with a partner.

Your provider would definitely ask in order to narrow down potential causes:

  • About your medical history
  • Whether substances are used by you
  • If you have a history of sleepwalking, night terrors, or other sleep disorders in your family
  • When you deal with difficult circumstances at work or at home
  • About any signs of mental wellbeing you’ve witnessed
  • If you have ever received management for a mental health problem
  • If you have signs of sleep disorders linked to breathing
  • If you are consuming any medication or are using natural remedies, particularly for sleeping
  • Rule out all other medical reasons, including other sleep disorders

If your symptoms have a major effect on your sleep quality, they can refer you to a sleep specialist.

When to See a Doctor?

Normally, mild sleep terrors are not a cause for alarm. If your child has sleep terrors, during a regular well-child test, you should simply mention them. Consult your doctor, however, if night terrors:

  • Become more routine
  • Disrupt the person’s sleep regularly with sleep terrors or other family members
  • Lead to safety or injury issues
  • Signs of prolonged sleepiness or job problems
  • Continue beyond adolescence or begin in adulthood


Some problems that may arise from having sleep terrors include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness, which may lead to school or job difficulties, or regular task problems
  • Troubled sleep
  • Embarrassment about the terror of sleep or relationship issues
  • Injury to oneself or rarely to a nearby person

What’s Treatment for Night Terrors?

Adolescents and adults with repeated night terrors can benefit from consulting with a sleep specialist who can help in determining if there is a treatable underlying cause. To treat the effects of night terrors, they can even prescribe therapy.

You may be asked to have a journal ( sleep diary) by a doctor or sleep professional, which is a record of your recent sleeping patterns and how sleep affects your everyday life. They can question a bed partner or family member for details, which could explain episodes of night terror. In order to help assess and diagnose underlying/concurrent sleep problems, some people may be recommended for a sleep analysis. For night terrors, medication is not normally needed. While childhood night terrors seem distressing, any lasting damage is unlikely, and they typically pass without intervention. Holding the hand of the child and calmly speaking will help shorten an incident. Treatment is typically only required if the episodes have a major negative impact on the protection of the individual or his/her family or if the problem affects their ability to work during the day.

Four kinds of intervention are available if care is required.

  • The treatment of an underlying disorder such as sleep apnea or concern with mental wellbeing.
  • By adjusting sleeping habits or the sleep environment, to change sleeping conditions.
  • In certain circumstances, medications such as benzodiazepines and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – aid.
  • Dealing, for example, with depression by therapy or counseling. Remedies at home and simple solutions.

Night terrors can be relieved by a variety of simple treatments.

  • The healthy setting for sleeping: Close windows and doors at night and lock them. Dream of alarming them. Remove trip hazards and remove items that are fragile and harmful.
  • The Burden: Identify any tension causes and ways to mitigate them. If a child is having night terrors, ask them to tell you and talk about something that disturbs them.
  • Having more sleep: Consideration could be sleep loss, so try to go to bed earlier or fit in an afternoon nap. It can also help to have a soothing routine before bedtimes, such as a warm bath or light reading before sleep. Stop screen time before going to bed for at least an hour.
  • Search for patterns: Keep a sleep log and note how often the terrors occur and when they start.

It is recommended to wake your child 15 minutes before they are likely to occur, keep them up for 5 minutes and then let them go back to sleep if the night terrors are worrisome, and they come at a regular time.

Preventing Night Terrors

There are things that you can do that could help if your child has a lot of night terrors. One example is the breaking up of their sleep. First, remember how many minutes the night terrors begin after bedtime.

Wake your child up 15 minutes before the anticipated horror of the night, and keep them up for 5 minutes and out of bed. Maybe you want to see if they’re going to use the toilet. Continue for a week with this routine. Episodes of night terror are brief and normally occur over many weeks. By their teen years, most kids will outgrow them.