Night Terror

Night terror is a sleep disorder that usually affects children, but can also be found in adolescents and adults, though the causes usually change. It can be alarming or frightening to witness, but in children, it’s not usually a cause for serious concern. It is characterized by a sudden “awakening,” possibly accompanied by screaming, heavy breathing, increased heart rate, and a look of fear or terror on the person’s face. However, the person affected by the night terror is not actually awake, and they usually do not remember the episode the next day.

Symptoms of Night Terror in Children

  • Suddenly bolting upright in bed, usually about 2 or 3 hours after falling asleep
  • Look of fear and panic on the face
  • Screaming or yelling out of fear
  • Sweating, fast breathing, increased heart rate
  • Inconsolable, unlike a regular nightmare
  • Confusion, seeming hallucination
  • Child does not recall the night terror in the morning

The symptoms of night terror in adolescents and adults are similar to the above list, but can also include:

  • Depression
  • Aggression
  • Passivity
  • Self-imposed anger
  • Ability to overlook pain
  • Impaired memory

What Causes Night Terror?

Although night terror in children can be very alarming and frightening for a parent or caretaker, causes can be as simple as overtiredness. Getting a child on a regular and disciplined sleep schedule can be of great help. Comforting and reassuring the child can help too, as sometimes children just need to feel safe and secure. It’s best to wait out the night terror, and make sure the child doesn’t hurt him/herself by thrashing. It’s also best not to wake the child up as this can add to the confusion. Remember, the child is actually asleep while the night terror occurs. In adults, night terror is usually associated with trauma or an underlying psychological disorder. It is more commonly found in adults who suffer from stress, anxiety, depression or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It can also be genetic.

Treatment for Night Terror

Treatment for night terror differs among children and adults. In children, night terror is often relieved with a regular sleep schedule and comforting. You might want to check with your doctor if you have changed your child’s medications because that can sometimes be the cause of night terror. If symptoms worsen or stay the same, you can contact your doctor to se if there is anything else you can do. In adults, night terror can be helped with regular psychotherapy. If there are underlying psychological problems, they should be treated in order for the night terror to subside. There are also medications on the market, some of which fall under the anti-depressant category. If you feel medication would be best for you, talk to your doctor.

What Should You Do?

Parents are advised to wait out their child’s night terror, and keep an eye on it. Keep a record of how often it occurs, if any particular circumstances seem to trigger a terror episode, and so on. If you feel very concerned, talk to your doctor. Adults with night terror should contact a local psychologist to get to the bottom of the issue, and relieve all underlying problems. This way, you can live a healthier and more positive lifestyle in many aspects.

View Resources

  • Wikipedia – Wikipedia page about night terror, including signs and symptoms in children and adults.
  • KidsHealth.org – Information for parents of children with night terror, including how to help and what to do.
  • NightTerrors.org – Information about night terror from an adult who has suffered them for many years.
  • Medline Plus – Webpage about night terror in children, what to do and when to see a doctor.

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