Night Terrors

Night Terrors

Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors or pavor nocturnus, are a type of sleep disorder that can be frightening and confusing for both individuals experiencing them and their families.

What Are Night Terrors?


A child experiencing night terrors will typically scream and appear very nervous or frightened. During these episodes, the child may seem confused or drowsy, may mumble, or provide unrelated answers to questions. They might also push, walk around, or behave oddly. While night terrors can be quite dramatic and distressing for parents, children are often unaware of their actions and have no recollection of the events. Although the child may seem awake, they are actually in a deep sleep.

Night terrors typically last between 5 and 10 minutes, sometimes lasting even longer. Children have no memory of these occurrences. The most challenging aspect for parents is the inability to soothe the child during these episodes; often, attempts to comfort them can exacerbate the intensity. It’s important to note that night terrors are not nightmares, and children do not dream during these episodes. Additionally, night terrors are not indicative of a psychological problem and do not cause psychological harm to the child.

Another nocturnal behavior similar to night terrors is referred to as Confusional Arousals. These episodes usually last between 5 and 15 minutes and can, in some cases, extend for several hours. This behavior is characterized by irritability, disorientation, crying, or significant movement in bed. It typically occurs more gradually than night terrors.

Night terrors usually happen about an hour or two after falling asleep, during the deep sleep phase. Night terrors are more common in young children, and for most of them, this phenomenon resolves by the time they reach puberty. A child with night terrors often has a family history of the condition.

Night terrors are different from nightmares in several ways:

  • Timing: Night terrors typically occur within the first few hours of sleep, during deep non-REM sleep, while nightmares occur during REM sleep, which happens later in the sleep cycle.
  • Memory: Individuals who experience night terrors usually have no memory of the event, while those with nightmares often remember their dream


Causes of Night Terrors

Night terrors can be triggered by various factors, including:

  1. Genetics: A family history of night terrors may increase the likelihood of experiencing them
  2. Stress and Anxiety: High levels of stress, anxiety, or major life changes can contribute to night terrors
  3. Sleep Deprivation: Insufficient sleep or irregular sleep patterns can make night terrors more likely
  4. Fever and Illness: Some children may experience night terrors during a fever or illness
  5. Medications: Certain medications, especially those that affect the central nervous system, can be associated with night terrors.
  1. Irregular bedtimes
  2. The presence of another sleep disorder, such as sleep-disordered breathing
  3. Sleeping in different locations


Symptoms of Night Terrors

Night terrors are typically characterized by the following features:

  • Sudden Onset: Night terrors often start abruptly during non-REM sleep
  • Intense Fear and Agitation: Individuals experiencing night terrors often appear extremely frightened and may scream, cry, or display signs of panic
  • Limited Responsiveness: They may not respond to attempts to console or comfort them and may not recognize the presence of others
  • Physical Activity: Some people with night terrors may exhibit physical behaviors such as thrashing, kicking, or moving around during the episode
  • Abrupt Ending: Night terrors usually end abruptly, with the individual falling back into a peaceful sleep without any memory of the event.

Supporting Someone with Night Terrors

  1. Safety First: If you’re present when someone is experiencing a night terror, prioritize their safety. Gently guide them away from any potential hazards and protect them from injury
  2. Do Not Wake Them: It’s generally not advisable to wake a person experiencing a night terror. This can lead to confusion and disorientation
  3. Create a Soothing Bedtime Routine: Establish a calming bedtime routine to help reduce the likelihood of night terrors. A consistent schedule and relaxation techniques can be helpful
  4. Address Stress and Anxiety: If stress or anxiety is contributing to night terrors, consider stress-reduction strategies, such as counseling or relaxation techniques.
  5. Consult a Healthcare Professional: If night terrors are frequent, severe, or significantly impact a person’s well-being, consult a healthcare professional, such as a sleep specialist or a pediatrician, to discuss potential treatments or interventions.

    In conclusion, night terrors are a challenging and sometimes bewildering sleep disorder that can affect individuals of all ages. While they can be distressing, it’s essential to remember that night terrors are typically not a cause for alarm. With understanding, patience, and support, both the person experiencing night terrors and their loved ones can navigate these episodes and work towards improving their overall sleep quality and well-being.

Please click here for preliminary childrens sleep assessment questionnaire