Night Terrors

Last updated:


Understanding Night Terrors

Night terrors are a sleep disorder characterized by fear and emotional distress during the first few hours of sleep. They primarily affect children, especially preadolescent boys, and occur during deeper stages of sleep compared to nightmares. Common symptoms include sudden awakening, fear or terror, screaming, sweating, confusion, rapid heart rate, and difficulty waking up.


Differences between night terrors and nightmares

While both night terrors and nightmares can cause distress during sleep, they differ in several ways. Nightmares typically occur during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep when dreaming is most likely to happen. In contrast,night terrors take place in non-REM deep sleep stages. Additionally, individuals experiencing nightmares often remember their dreams upon waking up while those with night terrors usually have no recollection of the event.

Prevalence in children versus adults

Night terrors mainly affect young children,, particularly those aged 4 to 12 years old. According to the U.S National Library of Medicine,, only about 1% - 6% of children experience this phenomenon which tends to disappear as their nervous systems mature; however adults may also suffer from it albeit less frequently than kids.

  • Sleep disorders: Adults who experience night terrors might be suffering from other underlying conditions such as restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea.
  • Emotional stress: Stressful life events or unresolved emotional issues can contribute to the occurrence of night terrors in adults.

Keeping a record of sleep patterns and identifying potential triggers can be beneficial for better managing night terrors. A sleep specialist may be consulted for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment of night terrors.

Causes of Night Terrors in Children

Causes of Night Terrors in Children

Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, are a type of sleep disorder that affects children more commonly than adults. Researchers believe that the central nervous system being overly stimulated is a major factor in night terrors. In this section, we will explore some factors contributing to night terrors in children and discuss how environmental influences can exacerbate these episodes.

Role of Central Nervous System Arousal

The central nervous system (CNS) is responsible for regulating various bodily functions such as heart rate and muscle movement during sleep. It has been suggested that night terrors occur when there's an imbalance or disruption within the CNS leading to heightened arousal levels while asleep. This may be due to genetic predisposition or other underlying medical conditions like restless leg syndrome, which could contribute to increased nighttime activity and consequently trigger night terror episodes.

Environmental Factors Contributing to Night Terrors

  • Sleep deprivation: Insufficient rest can lead to disruptions in normal sleep patterns making it difficult for children's brains to transition smoothly between different stages of slumber resulting in instances where they might experience night terrors.
  • Familial stressors: Emotional stress from family conflicts or changes at home can impact a child's ability to relax during bedtime hours increasing their likelihood for developing this condition.
  • Bullying: Studies have shown that children who are victims of bullying may be more prone to sleepwalking and night terrors as a result of increased anxiety levels.
  • Sleep apnea: Children with sleep apnea often experience disrupted breathing patterns throughout the night which can lead to heightened arousal states increasing their chances for experiencing night terror episodes.
  • Late bedtime or irregular routine: A consistent bedtime schedule is crucial in maintaining healthy sleep habits. An erratic routine or late-night activities can interfere with normal sleep cycles, making it difficult for children to achieve deep restorative slumber required for avoiding instances of night terrors.

In conclusion, while there's no definitive cause behind why some children experience night terrors, understanding the role played by central nervous system arousal and various environmental factors could help parents identify potential triggers and take appropriate measures towards prevention. Ensuring adequate rest, creating a calming pre-sleep environment, addressing any underlying medical conditions like restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea, and maintaining open communication lines about emotional stressors at home might prove beneficial in reducing occurrences of these distressing episodes among young ones.

Diagnosing Night Terrors

Diagnosing Night Terrors

Night terrors can be a distressing experience for both the individual and their loved ones. Accurate diagnosis is essential to ensure proper treatment and management of this sleep disorder. In this section, we will discuss the signs indicating possible presence of night terrors, as well as the importance of family history in diagnosing these episodes.

Signs Indicating Possible Presence of Night Terrors

To diagnose night terror symptoms accurately, doctors may ask patients about any signs they've noticed related to these episodes. Common indicators include:

  • Sudden awakening from sleep with intense fear or panic
  • Screaming or crying during sleep without waking up fully
  • Rapid breathing and increased heart rate during an episode
  • Inability to recall details of the event upon waking up fully
  • Difficulty consoling or calming down after an episode has ended

If you suspect that you or your child might be experiencing night terrors, it's crucial to keep a detailed record by maintaining asleep diary,. This will help healthcare professionals understand patterns and triggers associated with these events better.

Importance of Family History

Apart from observing symptoms and keeping track through a sleep diary, doctors may also inquire about family history when diagnosing night terrors. Research suggests that there could be a genetic component involved in developing this condition; hence understanding one's familial background becomes vital.Studies have shown a higher prevalence among individuals who have relatives with similar experiences such as nightmares, sleepwalking, or other sleep disorders like restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.

In some cases, psychological evaluations might also be recommended to rule out underlying issues contributing to the problem. This could include assessing for emotional stress that may exacerbate night terrors or identifying any potential trauma-related factors influencing one's sleep patterns.

Diagnosing night terrors is a crucial step in addressing this distressing experience effectively. By understanding the signs associated with these episodes and considering family history, healthcare professionals can develop personalized treatment plans to help individuals regain normal sleep patterns and improve their overall well-being.

Treating & Managing Night Terrors in Children

Treating & Managing Night Terrors in Children

Night terrors can be a source of distress for both kids and their guardians. Treatment options for addressing recurring instances vary depending on each child's specific needs, but generally involve ensuring safe environments, keeping regular bedtime routines consistent, maintaining open communication lines, providing comfort and reassurance when needed. Psychotherapy may be an option for those who require further assistance in addressing night terrors.

Ensuring Safe Sleeping Environments

To minimize the risk of injury during night terror episodes, it is crucial to create a safe sleeping environment for your child. This includes removing any sharp or dangerous objects from the room and using bed rails if necessary to prevent falls. Additionally, installing a nightlight can help provide comfort while making it easier to navigate the space should they sleepwalk during an episode.

Establishing Consistent Bedtime Routines

  • Create a calming pre-bedtime routine that includes activities such as reading or listening to soothing music.
  • Maintain consistency with bedtime schedules by going to bed at the same time every night.
  • Avoid stimulating activities like watching TV or playing video games close to bedtime.
  • Limit caffeine intake, especially in the evening hours before sleep.

Communication Strategies for Comforting Affected Individuals

If your child experiences night terrors, it is essential to provide comfort and reassurance. Here are some tips for effectively communicating with your child during these episodes:

  1. Stay calm and composed, as this will help the child feel more secure.
  2. Gently wake them up by calling their name or touching their shoulder. Avoid shaking or shouting, as this may intensify the episode.
  3. Offer soothing words of reassurance like "You're safe" or "Everything is okay."
  4. If they are able to communicate, encourage them to talk about what happened during the night terror. This can help alleviate any lingering fear or anxiety.

In addition to these strategies, it's important to address any underlying sleep disorders that could be contributing factors in experiencing night terrors. It's important to consult a healthcare professional if symptoms of sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome persist beyond expected timeframes. Consultation with a pediatrician can ensure proper care is being provided where necessary ultimately helping the individual affected return to normal healthy sleeping patterns sooner rather than later. Sleep specialists can also offer guidance on how best manage emotional stress which might exacerbate occurrences of night terrors in children.

Adult Experiences with Night Terrors

Adult Experiences with Night Terrors

In adults, night terrors can cause embarrassment and anxiety in social settings. Unlike children who often outgrow this sleep disorder, adults may continue to experience night terrors throughout their lives. Treatment options might include addressing any underlying sleep disorders or seeking professional help to manage stressors that could contribute to the episodes.

Impact of Night Terrors on Adult Life

Night terrors can significantly impact an adult's quality of life by disrupting normal sleep patterns and causing emotional distress. Adults who experience night terrors may feel embarrassed about their condition, especially if they share a bed with a partner or have roommates. This sense of shame can lead to increased anxiety levels and even avoidance of certain social situations where overnight stays are expected.

Sleeping badly due to night terrors can have physical repercussions, such as tiredness, grumpiness, trouble concentrating in the day and an increased chance of mishaps at work or while driving.

Addressing Underlying Sleep Disorders

If you suspect that your night terror episodes might be related to another sleep disorder,, it is essential first to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Some common co-occurring conditions include:

  • Sleep apnea: A potentially serious condition characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep which disrupts normal restorative processes.
  • Sleepwalking: Also known as somnambulism, a parasomnia where individuals engage in activities like walking around while still asleep. 
  • Restless leg syndrome: A neurological disorder causing uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them, especially during periods of rest.

Treating these underlying sleep disorders can help reduce or eliminate night terror episodes for some individuals. Addressing lifestyle elements, like cutting down on caffeine intake, keeping to a regular sleep timetable and creating a tranquil bedtime atmosphere could also be useful in increasing overall slumber quality and lessening the risk of night terrors.

Seeking Professional Help for Stress Management

In cases where emotional stress is believed to contribute to adult night terrors, seeking professional assistance from a therapist or counselor can be beneficial. They can provide guidance on effective coping strategies and techniques for managing anxiety levels that might otherwise trigger these distressing nocturnal events. For example, practicing relaxation exercises like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation before bed may help calm the nervous system and promote more restful slumber.

Preventing Night Terrors

To prevent further instances of night terrors, parents can take several measures to create a conducive sleep environment for their children. Establishing consistent bedtime routines, creating calming pre-sleep rituals, and avoiding exposure to violent media content before bedtime are some of the strategies that can help reduce the likelihood of experiencing night terrors. Most children will outgrow this phase without needing intervention from healthcare professionals.

Importance of Consistency in Bedtime Routines

Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is crucial for preventing night terrors. Ensure your kid gets in bed and rises up at the same hour daily, even on days off. This helps regulate their internal body clock and promotes healthy sleep patterns. Additionally, make sure they get enough rest each night by following age-appropriate sleep duration recommendations.

Calming Pre-Sleep Rituals for Prevention

Incorporating relaxing activities into your child's nighttime routine can help them unwind before going to bed. Some examples include:

  • Taking a warm bath or shower.
  • Reading a book together.
  • Listening to soft music or nature sounds.
  • Gentle stretching exercises or yoga poses suitable for kids.
  • Breathing exercises or guided meditation tailored for children.

To promote a peaceful sleep environment, refrain from having your child engage in stimulating activities such as watching TV shows with intense scenes, playing video games, or engaging in vigorous physical activity close to bedtime.

Avoiding Exposure to Violent Media Content

Exposure to violent or frightening media content before bedtime can increase the likelihood of sleep disorders, including night terrors. Limit your child's exposure to age-inappropriate movies, TV shows, video games, and other forms of entertainment that might cause emotional stress or anxiety. Instead, opt for calming activities that promote relaxation and a sense of security.

In cases where night terrors persist despite implementing these preventive measures, it is essential to consult with a pediatrician or sleep specialist who can provide further guidance on managing this condition effectively.

When to Seek Professional Help

If the issue of night terrors persists, it is important to get professional help from a pediatrician or sleep specialist in order to ensure proper treatment and enable the individual affected to return to regular healthy sleeping habits sooner. This ensures proper care is being provided where necessary, ultimately helping the individual affected return to normal healthy sleeping patterns sooner rather than later.

Indications for Consulting a Pediatrician

While most children will outgrow night terrors without needing intervention from healthcare professionals, there are certain situations when seeking help is recommended:

  • Your child's night terrors occur frequently and disrupt their daily life.
  • The episodes last longer than usual or become more intense over time.
  • You suspect an underlying medical condition such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome might be contributing to the problem.
  • Your child is having difficulty staying alert during the day due to sleep disruptions at night.

A pediatrician can provide valuable insights and tailored treatment options to help your child's disrupted sleep, potentially leading to further evaluation by a sleep specialist if needed. They may recommend further evaluation by a sleep specialist if needed.

The Role of Healthcare Professionals in Managing Night Terrors

A comprehensive approach involving both parents and healthcare professionals can effectively manage and treat persistent night terror symptoms. Some ways that experts can assist include:

  1. Evaluating Sleep Patterns: A thorough assessment of your childa€™s sleep habits through methods like maintaining a sleep diary can help identify any issues affecting their overall quality of rest. Learn how to create an effective sleep diary here. li>Treating Underlying Conditions: If an underlying sleep disorder or medical condition is contributing to your child's night terrors, a healthcare professional can recommend appropriate treatments such as medication or lifestyle changes.
  2. Behavioral Therapy: In some cases, psychotherapy techniques like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be helpful in addressing emotional stress and anxiety that could contribute to night terrors. Discover more about CBT here. li>Support and Education: Healthcare professionals can provide valuable information on coping strategies for both parents and children dealing with night terrors. This includes guidance on creating safe sleeping environments, establishing consistent bedtime routines, and offering comfort during episodes.

Taking the initiative to consult with a pediatrician or sleep specialist when necessary ensures your child receives the best possible care for their specific needs. With proper management and support from healthcare professionals, most individuals will overcome this challenging phase of their lives.

FAQs in Relation to Night Terrors

What mental illness is associated with night terrors?

Night terrors are not directly linked to a specific mental illness. However, they can be associated with underlying conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression. It's essential to address these issues if present, as treating the root cause may help alleviate night terrors. Learn more about the relationship between mental health and sleep disorders.

What's the latest research on night terrors?

Recent research focuses on understanding the neurobiological basis of night terrors and identifying effective treatment options. Studies have explored factors like genetics, brain activity during sleep stages, and potential links to other sleep disorders or medical conditions. Discover recent findings in this review of pediatric parasomnias.

What is the scientific explanation for night terrors?

Night terrors occur due to an abrupt arousal from deep non-REM sleep caused by overactivity in certain areas of the central nervous system responsible for regulating emotions and fear responses. This leads to intense feelings of panic without complete awakening from sleep.Find out more about how science explains night terror episodes.

What in the brain causes night terrors?

The exact cause remains unclear; however, it's believed that imbalances in neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, play a role in night terrors. Additionally, the amygdala - the brain's fear center - may be overactive during these episodes, leading to intense feelings of panic.Learn more about the possible neurological factors behind night terrors.


Overall, night terrors can be a distressing experience for both children and adults. It is important to understand the differences between night terrors and nightmares, identify potential causes, and seek appropriate treatment to alleviate symptoms and improve sleep quality.

Sign up to our newsletter and enjoy 10% off one order

Which product do I need?
As Seen On: