Night terrors are a sleep disorder in which a person quickly awakens from sleep in a terrified state.
Night terrors (sleep terrors) occur during deep sleep, usually during the first third of the night. The cause is unknown but night terrors may be triggered by fever, lack of sleep, or periods of emotional tension, stress, or conflict.
In contrast, nightmares are more common in the early morning. They may occur after someone watches frightening movies/TV shows or has an emotional experience. A person may remember the details of a dream upon awakening, and will not be disoriented after the episode.
Night terrors are most common in boys ages 5 - 7, although they also can occur in girls. They are fairly common in children ages 3 - 7, and much less common after that. Night terrors may run in families. They can occur in adults, especially with emotional tension and/or the use of alcohol.
Night terrors are most common during the first third of the night, often between midnight and 2 a.m.
Most children are unable to explain what happened the next morning. There is often no memory of the event when they awaken the next day.
Children with night terrors may also sleep walk.
In many cases, no further examination or testing is needed. If the night terror is severe or prolonged, the child may need a psychological evaluation.
In many cases, a child who has a night terror only needs comfort and reassurance. Psychotherapy or counseling may be appropriate in some cases. Benzodiazepine medications (such as diazepam) used at bedtime will often reduce night terrors; however, medication is rarely recommended to treat this disorder.
Most children outgrow night terrors in a short period of time. They don't usually remember the event. Stress reduction and/or psychotherapy may be helpful for night terror in adults.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
Minimizing stress or using coping mechanisms may reduce night terrors. The number of episodes usually decreases after age 10.
Pavor nocturnus; Sleep terror disorder