What to know about night terrors (2023)

Night terrors, also called night terrors, are a type of sleep disorder. During a night terror, you may scream or cry in your sleep or it may sound like you are having a nightmare. These episodes can affect children or adults, but are most common in early childhood.

In general, night terrors are not considered harmful to your physical or mental health,but sometimes they can be a sign of hidden anxiety. If you think you or your child has night terrors, rest assured that they can be well controlled with lifestyle changes and medical care.

In this article, learn what are the causes of night terrors and how to deal with them in adults and children.

What to know about night terrors (1)

Night terrors in children

Night terrors are not common, but they are not rare either. They are more common among children under 5 than in any other age group.A research article published in 2022 estimated the incidence of night terrors during early childhood to be between 16.7% and 20.5%.

There is a genetic predisposition to night terrors, but not everyone with this sleep disorder has a family member who also has them.

Causes of night terrors in childhood include:

(Video) Nightmares & Sleep (Night) Terrors | Most Common Nightmares, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

  • Fatigue, lack of sleep
  • Anxiety
  • sleep disorder
  • Acordar during or are
  • behavioral problems

Night terrors usually occur during the transition betweenphases that cycle during sleep.Children will wake up more often between sleep stages than adults. Sleep is normally regulated as the brain matures, and night terrors are rare in adulthood.

Sleep stages of night terrors

Night terrors occur during non-REM sleep, during stage 3 (slow wave) sleep.Dreams are usually a partrapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During REM sleep, people cannot move, cry, scream or speak. Unlike nightmares, night terrors occur when a person isYessleep, due to which physical movements, screaming and crying may occur during night terrors.

Some adults also experience night terrors.

Although the most common age for night terrors is early childhood, these episodes can continue or begin during adolescence or adulthood.

Night terrors at any age do not indicate a psychiatric condition, and there is no reason to be embarrassed or worried if you or your child have them. However, if you experience night terrors at any age, it is important to get a medical evaluation. Sometimes these episodes can be related to underlying medical conditions.

Risk factors for night terrors in adults include:

  • Anxiety
  • lack of sleep
  • Sleep disorders, such asobstructive sleep apnea
  • Side effects of drugs, especially antihistamines and antidepressants

If you are experiencing night terrors, it would be good to know if you have an underlying medical condition so that you can receive appropriate treatment. Treatment will help with the underlying condition and reduce the risk of recurring night terrors.

An anxiety disorder can cause symptoms of anxiety, but this is not always the case. Many people can experience periods of anxiety due to stress without having an anxiety disorder.

(Video) Night Terrors: How to Identify and What to Do

People who don't know about night terror episodes

One of the main characteristics of night terrors is that people are not aware that they have them and cannot remember the episodes.

Symptoms: Night terrors, nightmares or nightmare disorder?

Night terrors occur during sleep and people who experience these episodes are unaware that the episodes are happening. When a person has night terrors, they may cry, scream, or kick while they appear to be sleeping.

Symptoms and characteristics of night terrors include:

  • Making noises or movements that indicate agitation during sleep
  • rapid breathing
  • fast heartbeat
  • sweating
  • washing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Muscle tension
  • Does not respond to the speech of others in the room during the episode
  • I can't remember or describe what happened

After a night terror, people can sometimes remember experiencing some anxiety during the night, or they can describe a sense of doom.

Other parasomnias

Night terrors are a speciesparaxonia. A parasomnia is an unpleasant sleep experience, such asNightmare. However, night terrors are not the same as nightmares or other parasomnias.

Comparison of other parasomnias with night terrors includes:

  • nightmaresthey are nightmares and people usually remember some of the nightmare content. Unlike night terrors, people don't act out during a nightmare, and others in the room usually don't notice any changes in movement or behavior.
  • Somnambulismit is a type of coordinated physical movement that occurs during sleep. Sleepwalking does not occur during the sleep phase of sleep, and people who experience it do not remember sleepwalking.They are more common in childrenbut adults.
  • I'm paralyzedit is a terrifying experience during which you are unable to physically move any part of your body, even if you feel you are awake. Most people remember episodes of sleep paralysis, and others who may be present in the room usually do not see any changes in behavior.
  • talking in your sleepit's when people talk in their sleep. This can happen during any stage of sleep and is usually not uncomfortable.

Sleep routines to stop night terrors

If you experience night terrors, there are some ways to prevent them. You should start by consulting a health care professional who will assess your overall health and consider underlying psychological problems (especially anxiety) and medical conditions that may put you at risk.

(Video) Living with night terrors - Intro to Psychology

Some recommendations for preventing repeated night terrors include lifestyle adjustments.

Steps you can take to prevent night terrors include:

  • Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and other stimulants (such as stimulants), especially before bed
  • Avoiding disturbing content, such as books, media or frightening discussions, especially before bedtime
  • Get enough sleep if you don't sleep well
  • Regulate your sleep schedule so that you go to bed and wake up around the same time every day

Also, consider the following with your doctor:

  • Review your medication list to see if you are taking any medications that could cause night terrors as a side effect
  • If you may have anxiety that can weigh you down and how to get help and support with nagging issues
  • Is a sleep assessment necessary to identify an underlying sleep disorder that requires assessment and treatment?

For a child with persistent night terrors that occur at a regular time each night, a healthcare professional may recommend scheduled wake-ups.In this process, the usual duration of night terrors is more than two weeks.

Each night, the parent gently wakes the child 15 to 30 minutes before this time and allows him to go back to sleep. This is done for two to four weeks.

Mental health and night terrors

People who experience night terrors are sometimes concerned that these events could be an indication of a deeper mental problem. Older research on this topic did not show a strong connection between night terrors and psychiatric conditions.

In general, people with psychiatric diagnoses such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder, or schizophrenia may have a slightly higher risk of experiencing night terrors or other parasomnias.However, night terrors are not indicative of an underlying or undiagnosed psychiatric condition.

Causes and Treatment of PTSD Nightmares

(Video) Night Terrors vs Nightmares - How To Tell The Difference

For parents: When you see that your child has night terrors

If you have experienced night terrors in your children, you may be concerned that your child may be having a seizure or panic attack. It can be difficult for parents to tell the difference between night terrors and psychiatric illnesses or neurological conditions.

It can be helpful to video or audio record episodes so that you can share the recordings with your child's pediatrician when you bring your child in for an evaluation.

During the night terror

If your child has night terrors, it is best not to wake him, move him or interact with him. When they wake up, allow them to talk about any distress they're feeling and offer gentle reassurance.

Many children are stressed about a variety of things in life, from excessive anxiety about problems over which they have no control to serious concerns about problems such as parental arguments or bullying at school.

If you feel that you are unable to deal with your child's anxiety, it may be helpful to seek professional help from someone experienced in counseling children and families with young children.


Night terrors, also called night terrors, are more common among young children than any other age group, but they can occur at any age. Sleep disturbance, sleep deprivation, or daytime anxiety can sometimes contribute to the risk of night terrors, and can also occur as a side effect of medications.

(Video) What are Night Terrors and How do they Affect Children?

Night terrors are episodes that involve acting out feelings of terror during sleep, which may be alarming to other people but cause no distress to the person experiencing the episode. Some people may feel doom or anxiety before or after a night terror. The main feature of night terrors is that people don't remember having them.

If you or your child is experiencing night terrors, it would be helpful to see a healthcare professional who can try to identify the underlying cause and provide some guidance to help manage it.


What to know about night terrors? ›

Night terrors are a sleep disorder in which a person quickly awakens from sleep in a terrified state. The cause is unknown but night terrors are often triggered by fever, lack of sleep or periods of emotional tension, stress or conflict.

Why do night terrors happen? ›

Night terrors are caused by over-arousal of the central nervous system (CNS) during sleep. Sleep happens in several stages. We have dreams — including nightmares — during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage. Night terrors happen during deep non-REM sleep.

What is the dangers of night terrors? ›

Some complications that may result from experiencing sleep terrors include: Excessive daytime sleepiness, which can lead to difficulties at school or work, or problems with everyday tasks. Disturbed sleep. Embarrassment about the sleep terrors or problems with relationships.

What to do during night terrors? ›

How to help a child during a night terror
  1. Try to help your child return to normal sleep. Don't try to awaken your child. ...
  2. Protect your child against injury. During a night terror, a child can fall down a stairway, run into a wall, or break a window. ...
  3. Prepare babysitters for these episodes. ...
  4. Try to prevent night terrors.

Are night terrors linked to mental health? ›

Since adult night terrors are so closely associated with life trauma and psychological disorders, many of those who endure this bedtime battle will often also exhibit signs of aggression, anxiety, memory loss, and inward pain that are often expressed in the form of self-mutilation.

Are night terrors caused by trauma? ›

If you have been diagnosed with PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, you are vulnerable to experiencing night terrors.

How do night terrors affect the brain? ›

Night terrors occur in deep sleep or NREM stage three. During night terrors, the front part of your brain that controls executive functioning and memory is asleep while the back part that controls motor movement is awake. This is similar to sleepwalking.

Who usually suffers from night terrors? ›

Night terrors are most common in children ages 3 through 7, and much less common after that. Night terrors may run in families. They can occur in adults, especially when there is emotional tension or alcohol use.

Can weighted blankets help with night terrors? ›

Weighted blankets are one possible solution. Not only are weighted blankets scientifically proven to reduce insomnia severity in people with psychiatric disorders, but they can also be a source of comfort for those dealing with frequent night terrors.

How long do night terror episodes last? ›

Night terrors can cause severe distress, followed by a state of panic and a sensation of helplessness. Most episodes last 45-90 minutes and are most common as the individual passes through stages 3 and 4 non-rapid eye movement sleep. Night terrors are most common in between ages 4 until puberty.

How do you break the cycle of night terrors? ›

Because night terrors typically occur at the same time every night, parents can be proactive by waking up their child about 30 minutes before the terror is likely to occur. This will break the sleep cycle. Stay up with your child for about five minutes reading a book, talking or singing a song.

How do you comfort someone with night terrors? ›

Speak calmly but avoid waking them.

Trying to wake them up can be dangerous but also futile. Many people in night terrors never wake up during the episode. What you can do is speak to them in a calm and soothing voice to offer comfort. If they get up but are not too agitated, gently guide them back to bed.

Is there a way to get rid of night terrors? ›

Make your child's room safe so they aren't hurt during an episode. Get rid of anything that might disturb their sleep, like electronic screens or noises. Try to lower your child's stress levels. Make sure your child gets enough rest.

Are night terrors linked to bipolar? ›

People with bipolar disorder also commonly face Night terrors. Disparate nightmares, night terrors do not occur during REM sleep. A night terror isn't a dream, but rather sudden awakening along with the physical symptoms such as intense fear feeling, screaming or thrashing, and increased heart rate and blood pressure.

Are night terrors caused by abuse? ›

Stress can begin the cycle of sleep terrors or it can exacerbate it by causing fatigue or sleep deprivation. Sometimes, but not always, abuse, molestation, or other trauma can cause sleep terrors.

Are night terrors part of schizophrenia? ›

Nightmares occur more frequently in patients with schizophrenia than they do in the general population. Nightmares are profoundly distressing and may exacerbate daytime psychotic symptoms and undermine day-to-day function.

What foods can trigger night terrors? ›

Foods including cheese, spicy foods, sugar and sweets (particularly chocolate), pizza, fast food, noodles or pasta, milk, and even meat have all been linked to nightmares. Drinks containing caffeine are also a major trigger for nightmares, including sports drinks, fizzy drinks, iced tea, and certain types of juice.

Can night terrors lead to psychosis? ›

Similarly, experiencing night terrors doubled the risk of such problems, including hallucinations, interrupted thoughts or delusions. Younger children, between two and nine years old, who had persistent nightmares reported by parents had up to 1.5 times increased risk of developing psychotic experiences.

Should you wake up someone having a night terror? ›

Stay awake for about 10 minutes before falling back asleep. Experts usually advise against rousing someone mid-episode, since there's always the possibility that the person experiencing the night terror could react violently.

Are night terrors linked to dementia? ›

For people with Lewy Body dementia this can include nightmares or night terrors and/or restless leg syndrome or uncontrolled limb movements.

What is the best medication for night terrors? ›

Night terrors in adults can be treated with medications such as an antidepressant called Tofranil or benzodiazepine drugs such as Klonopin or Valium. Additionally, the doctor may recommend psychotherapy, which is a method of treating emotional problems.

Are night terrors and anxiety linked? ›

What causes nightmares and night terrors? If you have chronic nightmares, they could be due to stress, anxiety, a traumatic event or lack of sleep. Night terrors have a strong genetic link, so you are more likely to experience them if someone else in your family has them.

Are night terrors hormonal? ›

Night terrors are not triggered or caused by menopause or perimenopause. Common triggers in adults include stress, alcohol, and caffeine. Night terrors are a form of parasomnia. Parasomnia conditions involve undesirable physical or verbal behaviors during sleep that are not under the sleeper's voluntary control.

Why can't you wake up someone with night terrors? ›

However, do not try to wake a child during a night terror. Attempts at arousal may make the episode last longer or provoke a physical response that could lead to injury. Most often these episodes are short, and your child will fall quickly back to sleep.

Are night terrors worse than nightmares? ›

The bottom line. Nightmares are disturbing dreams you can easily remember upon waking, while night terrors are episodes of screaming and flailing that you typically won't recall. While children more commonly experience these sleep disturbances, adults can have them too.

Can melatonin stop night terrors? ›

Although melatonin can help children fall asleep, it can also worsen night terrors in children prone to them, so it's best to consult with your child's doctor before using melatonin to treat night terrors. Some alternative healthcare professionals recommend essential oils like juniper for calming night terrors.

Can melatonin be used for night terrors? ›

Also, 5 mg of delayed-released melatonin helped reduce the number of times these people experienced hallucinations. And even more interestingly, taking any less than 5 mg had almost no effect on reducing hallucinations, suggesting that 5 mg was a crucial amount for combating the effects of these night terrors.

Can being too hot cause night terrors? ›

During REM dream sleep stage, our temperature regulation is poor. Additionally for children, we must also consider the fact that their little bodies are not yet able to regulate their body temperature in the first place. Overheating can exacerbate this, causing children to experience nightmares and night terrors.

Are night terrors like panic attacks? ›

Night terrors are a disruptive sleep disorder (parasomnia). A person experiencing a night terror has symptoms like those of a nocturnal panic attack. One key difference is awareness. People experiencing night terrors are often unaware they're having them.

What age are night terrors most common? ›

Night terrors are most common in children between the ages of 3 and 8, while nightmares can affect both children and adults. Differences between night terrors and nightmares. Information: If you cannot move or speak as you wake up or fall asleep, you may have sleep paralysis.

Can night terrors look like seizures? ›

Differentiating sleep terrors from nocturnal seizures can be challenging. In both instances, patients seem to awaken suddenly from non-REM sleep; they may scream, appear agitated, and move their arms and legs. However, there are important differences to look for when making a diagnosis.

Can night terrors cause crying? ›

Deepest sleep is usually early in the night, often before parents' bedtime. During a night terror, your child might: Cry uncontrollably. Sweat, shake or breathe fast.

Can a child respond during a night terror? ›

Some children might even sit up or get out of bed and run around. But children are actually asleep during a night terror, so they won't respond when someone tries to comfort them. They might look confused or dazed, and what they say might not make sense.

Does music help with night terrors? ›

Sounds played during sleep may reduce the frequency of nightmares and promote positive emotions that can help lead to a better slumber.

What do kids say during night terrors? ›

“During a night terror, a child may scream, talk or cry but not really be awake,” explains pediatric sleep disorders expert Vaishal Shah, MD, MPH.

Can you get PTSD from a night terror? ›

In particular, nightmares (and night terrors, discussed below) are associated with the type of trauma that can cause post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. This level of trauma is due to a person having either experienced or witnessed a terrifying event.

Are nightmares and night terrors hereditary? ›

What causes night terrors? Night terrors are inherited, meaning a child gets the disorder from his or her parents and the condition runs in families. They occur in 2% of children and usually are not caused by psychological stress.

What conditions are similar to night terrors? ›

Parasomnias are disruptive sleep-related disorders. Abnormal movements, talk, emotions and actions happen while you're sleeping although your bed partner might think you're awake. Examples include sleep terrors, sleepwalking, nightmare disorder, sleep-related eating disorder and sleep paralysis.

Can night terrors be caused by anxiety? ›

What causes nightmares and night terrors? If you have chronic nightmares, they could be due to stress, anxiety, a traumatic event or lack of sleep. Night terrors have a strong genetic link, so you are more likely to experience them if someone else in your family has them.

Are night terrors bad dreams? ›

Night terrors and nightmares are different and happen at different stages of sleep. During a night terror you may talk and move about but are asleep. It's rare to remember having a night terror. Nightmares are bad dreams you wake up from and can remember.

Why are night terrors scary? ›

That's because during a night terror, while your child seems to be awake and frightened, in truth, you are the only one who is awake. Your child is experiencing parasomnia, an unusual behavior in sleep that occurs because of a mixing of sleeping and waking states: a behavior they won't even remember in the morning.

What causes night terrors in a child? ›

A common cause of night terrors is not having enough good-quality sleep. Also, children are more likely to have night terrors if they're not well. Fever and certain medications can increase the likelihood of night terrors. Night terrors can run in families.

Are night terrors panic attacks? ›

Nighttime panic attacks, also known as 'nocturnal panic attacks' or 'night terrors', happen while you're asleep and wake you up, often with the same symptoms as daytime panic attacks.

What mood disorder has night terrors? ›

People with bipolar disorder also commonly face Night terrors. Disparate nightmares, night terrors do not occur during REM sleep. A night terror isn't a dream, but rather sudden awakening along with the physical symptoms such as intense fear feeling, screaming or thrashing, and increased heart rate and blood pressure.

At what ages do night terrors occur most frequently? ›

What age do night terrors start? Night terrors are most common in preschool-aged children around 3 - 4 years old. But toddlers as young as 18 months - 2 years old, and children as old as 7 or 8 years, can experience them as well.

Is night terrors PTSD? ›

Nightmares and Night Terrors: Nightmares and night terrors plague a majority of people with PTSD, leading to nighttime awakenings and making it difficult to get back to sleep. The content of these vivid dreams is sometimes related to past trauma, with many PTSD sufferers reporting repetitive nightmares.

How do you calm a child with night terrors? ›

Home Remedies for Night Terrors
  1. Make your child's room safe so they aren't hurt during an episode.
  2. Get rid of anything that might disturb their sleep, like electronic screens or noises.
  3. Try to lower your child's stress levels.
  4. Make sure your child gets enough rest. ...
  5. Create a relaxing bedtime routine, and stick to it.
Dec 4, 2020

When should I worry about night terrors? ›

While night terrors are frightening for adults to witness and they may seem like your child is having a severe emotional or mental disturbance, night terrors are not usually associated with serious emotional or psychological problems. If your child's behaviour is worrying during the day, see your GP for advice.

Does melatonin help night terrors? ›

Although melatonin can help children fall asleep, it can also worsen night terrors in children prone to them, so it's best to consult with your child's doctor before using melatonin to treat night terrors. Some alternative healthcare professionals recommend essential oils like juniper for calming night terrors.


1. What Are Night Terrors? How Can I Help My Child with their Night Terrors?
(NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital)
2. What Can You Do about Night Terrors?
(The Doctors)
3. Mental Health Monday: Night Terrors
(KCAL News)
4. ALL ABOUT NIGHT TERRORS: Signs, Symptoms, & More!
(Polar Warriors)
5. How to prevent 'night terrors' in your children
6. What are Nightmares and Night Terrors?
(Dr. Daniel Fox)


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