Night terrors are sleep disorders characterized by terror. Learn more about the causes and ways to handle it.

What Is Night Terror

Have you known someone to wake up abruptly from sleep and gasp, scream, or moan with terror? The strange thing is that, all on their own, they will settle back to sleep without waking up completely. In fact, when you talk to them about it the next morning, they will barely recall the terror episode! Night Terror is also called Sleep Terror or Pavor Nocturnus, and refers to a sleep disorder, the peculiarity of which is extreme terror accompanied by being unable to regain full consciousness following the terror episode. These are not the same as nightmares, although similar in nature. The person who goes through an episode of night terror usually will not remember what scared him/ her, but will remember that there was something extremely terrifying. 
The exact causes of night terror are unknown. However, the known triggers are extreme emotional tension, lack of sleep, fever, or conflict. Night terrors usually occur in the first half of the night, and are most prevalent in pre-adolescent boys, more than in girls or in adults. The period of time when it is most prevalent is between the ages of three and five. In some cases, night terrors can run in families, and are hence thought to be hereditary.
Specific Causes In Children
  • Loss of a favorite toy
  • Overhearing parents arguing or fighting
  • Watching violent television programs or movies
  • Listening to or reading frightening stories
  • Psychological conflicts that are un-treated
  • Trauma – such as the loss of a loved one in death or a divorce in the family 
Specific Causes In Adults 
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Emotional Distress
  • Unresolved psychological conflicts
  • Depression
  • Improper diet
  • Withdrawal from addictive drugs
  • Withdrawal symptoms of alcohol, if the person was once an abuser of alcohol
  • Usage of prescription drugs such as antihistamines, beta blockers, decongestants and antidepressants. 
About The Episodes 
  • Symptoms are not in a set pattern – they occur for few weeks and then disappear.
  • Some people quite often might be able to recall the incident and even hallucinate at times.
  • The person appears awake, but is disoriented confused and unresponsive to any stimulus.
  • There could be an escalation of the person’s heart rate during the episode, and this could be accompanied by sweating and harsh breathing.
For Children 
  • Parents should monitor when their child has these episodes of terror and awaken the child 15 minutes before the episode usually begins. The terrors should usually stop in a week of starting this.
  • In severe cases, doctors might prescribe antidepressants, or drugs that relieve nervous tension and induce sleep. 
For Adults 
  • Antidepressants are usually used to treat night terror in adults.
  • Doctors might recommend psychotherapy along with antidepressants. This is because night terror in adults is primarily related to emotional problems, and psychotherapy will be able to get to the root of the matter.

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