Health A-Z

Night Terrors

Clinical Definition

Night terrors are a type of parasomnia in which a person seems to awaken, typically from stage 3 deep sleep, in a terrified state. Those affected may appear to be awake, but also appear confused and are unable to communicate. Typically, a night terror continues for about 15 minutes, with the person then appearing to fall back asleep. Those affected are amnesic about the terror the next day. During the terror, the person may pose a danger as they can be behaving abnormally. Better sleep hygiene is one treatment.

In Our Own Words

Night terror, also called sleep terror, is a type of sleep-related disorder (parasomnia) that occurs during very deep sleep. Parasomnias also include sleepwalking and nightmares, and they can run in families.

Typically a toddler or school aged child wakes up in a terrified state, sweating and red-faced, confused and unable to talk or receive reassurance. After about 15 minutes, the child lies back down and appears to fall asleep. Children ages 4 to 12 often are affected, although terrors can continue to adulthood, though rarely.

Family members should be aware those affected can be a danger to themselves during the night terrors, as they can be running around or jumping from beds.

Paying attention to better sleep habits can help reduce some kinds of sleep disorders. Night terrors occur in otherwise healthy individuals, although they can also occur in tandem with a medical or psychiatric disorder.

Symptoms and Side Effects

  • Abrupt “waking up” from sleep, terrified
  • Bizarre or unusual behavior, forgotten in the morning
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