Locations Main Campus: Chesterfield, MO 63017   |   Locations
314-434-1500 314-434-1500   |   Contact Us

Multimedia Encyclopedia


 
E-mail Form
Email Results

 
 
Print-Friendly
Bookmarks
bookmarks-menu

Night terror

Pavor nocturnus; Sleep terror disorder

 

Night terrors (sleep terrors) are a sleep disorder in which a person quickly wakes from sleep in a terrified state.

Causes

 

The cause is unknown, but night terrors may be triggered by:

  • Fever
  • Lack of sleep
  • Periods of emotional tension, stress, or conflict

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.

 

Symptoms

 

Night terrors are most common during the first third of the night, often between midnight and 2 a.m.

  • Children often scream and are very frightened and confused. They thrash around violently and are often not aware of their surroundings.
  • The child may not be able to respond to being talked to, comforted, or awakened.
  • The child may be sweating, breathing very fast (hyperventilating), have a fast heart rate, and widened (dilated) pupils.
  • The spell may last 10 to 20 minutes, then the child goes back to sleep.

Most children are unable to explain what happened the next morning. They often have no memory of the event when they wake up the next day.

Children with night terrors may also sleep walk.

In contrast, nightmares are more common in the early morning. They may occur after someone watches frightening movies or TV shows, or has an emotional experience. A person may remember the details of a dream after waking up and will not be disoriented after the episode.

 

Exams and Tests

 

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.

 

Treatment

 

In many cases, a child who has a night terror only needs to be comforted.

Reducing stress or using coping mechanisms may reduce night terrors. Talk therapy or counseling may be needed in some cases.

Medicines prescribed for use at bedtime will often reduce night terrors, but are rarely used to treat this disorder.

 

Outlook (Prognosis)

 

Most children outgrow night terrors. Episodes usually decrease after age 10.

 

When to Contact a Medical Professional

 

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:

  • Night terrors occur often
  • They disrupt sleep on a regular basis
  • Other symptoms occur with the night terror
  • The night terror causes, or almost causes, injuries

 

Prevention

 

Minimizing stress or using coping mechanisms may reduce night terrors.

 

 

References

Owens JA. Sleep medicine. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 19.

 
  • What are night terrors?

    What are night terrors?

    Animation

  •  

    What are night terrors? - Animation

    It can alarming (to say the least!) when your child wakes up screaming during the night. What's going? Learn about night terrors and a great trick for what to do when your child is having one.

  • What are night terrors?

    Animation

  •  

    What are night terrors? - Animation

    It can alarming (to say the least!) when your child wakes up screaming during the night. What's going? Learn about night terrors and a great trick for what to do when your child is having one.

    Self Care

     

      Tests for Night terror

       

         

        Review Date: 4/21/2015

        Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

        The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
        adam.com

         
         
         

         

         

        A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.



        Content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.