Night Terrors Causes Treatment

Night Terrors: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Night terrors, it is the common term that every parent knows and has experienced in their life. Children get bad dreams that invoke fear in them. So, they wake up screaming or shouting. Every parent has to go through the episode of night terror at least once in their life. But, it is not a problem experienced by children alone. Adults can also experience the night terrors leading to disrupted sleep patterns. The problem can trigger several issues if it persists for a long time.

You can confuse a nightmare with night terrors. Nightmare refers to the bad dream that can wake you up. But, night terrors can occur while you sleep and continue to experience the frightening episode. Most times others have to shake you awake for making you aware of the surroundings. It is a terrifying condition for people young or old who endure. So, you need to get more information to overcome the problem.

What Are Night Terrors?

Night terrors

The nocturnal episodes triggering fear in people while sleeping can become frightening. The episodes can make you scream, flail your limbs, and shout. Night terrors refer to such episodes that make you glare wide-eyed even when you sleep. It is a common occurrence in children. Studies indicate that more than 40% of kids below the age of 10 can suffer from night terrors. The studies also indicate that the attacks can last for thirty seconds or three minutes. In some cases, the night terrors last for a longer duration. Therefore, the episodes can disrupt peaceful sleep and make you uncomfortable. But, it is not a medical ailment that can affect you fatally.

Generally, your sleep is divided into several stages. The dreams and nightmare happen during the stage of rapid eye movement (REM). But unlike the dreams or nightmares, the night terror occurs during the non-REM stage of your sleep. So, the night terror is not a dream/nightmare, but a reaction. You react to the sudden fear while transitioning from one phase of your sleep to another. Therefore, the issue can make you distressed as your child can feel frightened and terrified. It can also affect adults. So, when people sleep for two to three hours, they move to the next stage. The transition from the deep stage of non-REM to the light side of REM can trigger fear. It makes your child feel frightened or upset.

Symptoms Of Night Terrors

Symptoms Of Night Terrors

The main difference between the dreams or nightmares and the night terrors is the phase of sleep. So, during a nightmare, you wake up quickly. But, night terrors continue to affect you as you stay asleep. The problem can affect you during the first part of the slow wave sleep (non REM sleep). Subsequently, you experience different symptoms that accompany it like:

  • Sleepwalking or sitting up on your bed with fear
  • Shouting
  • Screaming
  • Confusion after waking up
  • Thrashing or kicking of limbs
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Heavy breathing
  • Racing pulse
  • Increased muscle tone
  • Profuse sweating
  • Difficult to wake up
  • Not responding to stimuli after waking up
  • Feeling dazed
  • Aggressive behavior
  • No memory of the dream

Adults most become agitated due to the night terrors. In most cases, people affected by the frightening episode never remember what actually they saw. So, it means that the frightening dream has invoked fear.

Causes Of Night Terrors

Several factors contribute to the night terrors. The common issues that can lead to the problem are:

  • Fever (It is a problem for children)
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Emotional/Physical Stress
  • Noise
  • Full bladder
  • Sleeping in an unfamiliar location
  • A migraine
  • Side effects of medications
  • Drug/Alcohol abuse

Several other causes can lead to the night terrors that you need to understand in detail. Some issues make a person vulnerable emotionally leading to the episodes.



Children can get intimidated by their peers or teacher at the school. School bullying is a serious issue that has caused the deaths of several students. The children are unable to withstand the pressure due to the bullying take their own life. So, hostile incidents can invoke fear in the minds of students. Such children can experience night terrors on a regular basis. It can lead to other problems like depression, social disorders or the kids can get engage in criminal activities.

Underlying Breathing Problems

Problems with your breathing during the sleep like apnea can result in the sleep terrors. The sleeping interruptions you suffer during the night can trigger the issue.

Sleep Walking

The sleepwalking and night terrors have a strong link between each other. Both the condition occurs during the deep sleep stage. So, the problem occurs during the early part of the night. The slow-wave sleep stage can trigger the problem in people. In such cases, people find it difficult to maintain a sleeping stage like normal people. Therefore, such people are more susceptible to other issues like parasomnias. It is due to the vulnerability of quick arousals that leads to the issue.

Thalamic Dysfunction

Thalamic dysfunction or brain lesion can alter your daily activities drastically. The dysfunction or the damage to the region can trigger the phenomenon. The damaged brain can increase the signals coming mainly from the thalamus. It can result in the micro-arousals. The micro-arousals can contribute to sleep terror. You may wonder why the damage to the thalamus can trigger the issue. It is due to the fact that the thalamus has an integral role in the sleep-wake cycles. It also reduces the signals during sleep. So, the dampened signals like the hearing while you sleep can cause no problems.

The information collected from the outside world gets passed through your thalamus. Then, it is sent to different parts of the brain. The brain signals help us to hear, see, smell, etc. Once you sleep, the inclination to send the signals diminishes. So, you may become unaware of the tactile stimuli. It leads to less knowledge about the sounds or other activities happening around you. It can get disrupted due to brain lesions.

Genetic Factors

Some genetic factors can influence sleep terrors. People with family members with sleepwalking have a higher probability of experiencing the issue. A large number of people experiencing the sleepwalking and night terrors have at least one family member with one or both the conditions. Another interesting factor is that identical twins can experience the issue alike. So, when one twin experiences the sleep terror, the chances of the other feeling the same are high. But, in non-identical twins the chances comparatively low.

Parents with the sleepwalking disorder have a high probability of getting the issue. It can also persist for a longer duration. Studies have established that the infants (around 18 months of age) are vulnerable to experience the night terrors.

The issue can have a long-lasting effect on people. Many children suffering from it can develop sleep disorders in the future. So, they can suffer from sleepwalking or other sleep-related complication with higher probability.

Risk Factors Associated With Night Terrors

Some people are more prone to the issue compared to others. The following factors can influence the episodes:

  • Children/Adult experiencing stress (Physical and Emotional)
  • Family members with a history of the issue
  • People with the problem of sleepwalking
  • Female members

The factors can form the deciding factor in getting affected by the fearful episodes. So, individuals coming under the category need to maintain caution.

Complication Due To Night Terrors

The night terror may seem like a small problem. So, you may ignore it. But, it can cause serious consequences. The main complications due to night terrors include:

Feeling Sleepy

The inability to sleep properly at night can affect you during the day. You may feel sleepy all the times. So, you cannot concentrate on your school or work properly. It becomes difficult to complete day-to-day tasks without feeling exhausted.

Disturbed Sleep

The inability to sleep peacefully without any fear can make you agitated. It can create an imbalance in your body. Hence, you cannot utilize your potential to the fullest.

Problems In Personal Relationships

The embarrassment to talk about the night terrors can affect your personal relationships. You may create a barrier with your loved ones. So, it can lead to loss of trust and intimacy in relationships.


In rare cases, the night terrors can invoke a violent response from you. So, you may harm someone unintentionally during the episodes. Though it is rare, there are possibilities to cause harm to people sleeping near you.

Diagnosis Of Night Terrors

As soon as you notice the increasing frequency of night terrors, you need to approach your doctor. It is a condition that requires medical intervention. To make your life as smooth as possible, you need external help. Else, you can fail miserably in your personal as well as professional lives. Once you seek the doctor’s appointment, the problem gets diagnosed in the following methods:

Physical Examination

The doctor performs a complete physical examination. It reveals the presence of external injuries or issues that trigger the night terrors. Depending on the condition revealed, your doctor takes the appropriate actions.

Assessing The Symptoms

The descriptions of the events leading to the issue can make it clearer to your doctor. So, you need to answer truthfully about the history of the problem in your family. The doctor may ask you and your partner to complete a questionnaire. Hence, the answers can provide in-depth insight into your sleep behaviors.



Also known as the nocturnal sleep study, it offers a clinical picture of your problem. it requires you to spend your night at the lab. Your sleep pattern is subjected to in-depth analysis and study. Different sensors get placed in your body. It records the brain waves. It also monitors brain activity closely to check the following:

  • Your heart rate
  • Breathing pattern
  • Oxygen levels in the blood
  • Leg and Eye Movements

The documented monitoring of the parameters during your sleep can offer valuable information on the factors leading to the problem. Therefore, the videotaped record can offer information on your sleep cycle behaviors.

Treatment Of Night Terrors

A specific treatment option is not available for the night terrors. The doctor can only suggest treatment for the underlying conditions triggering the problem. The treatment options mainly focus on eliminating the main trigger or cause that leads to the episodes. If the condition causes injury to others or causes issues in personal relationships, then immediate action is necessary. So, the treatment mainly attempts to provide you with safety.

Medical Treatment For Night Terrors

The techniques opted by your doctor are:

Treating The Underlying Health Condition

Some medical conditions can cause night terrors. The mental or physical disorder (for example obstructive sleep apnea) needs treatment immediately to clear the issue. By curing the health problem, you can see the frequent episodes of sleep terrors decreasing.

Eliminating Stress

Stress is the negative emotion in your life leading to several issues. It can trigger anxiety that is the root cause of several sleep disorders. In such cases, your doctor suggests getting help from the counselor or therapist. Therefore, the following treatment options can help you overcome the stress and anxiety in your life:

  • Hypnosis
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Biofeedback
  • Relaxation Techniques
  • Anticipatory Awakening

It is another method opted by your doctor to reduce the fear and panic you suffer due to night terrors. As the name suggests, you wake up 15 minutes before the event. It can avoid the frightening episodes. You stay awake for some time until the danger of experiencing the episode passes. So, you can fall asleep without getting panicked.


It is the not so popular option for treating the sleep terrors. It is mostly avoided as the majority of the patients enduring sleep terrors come under the category of kids. But, for adults, the doctor may prescribe antidepressants or benzodiazepines to relieve the symptoms successfully.

Home Remedies For Night Terrors

You can opt for some strategies at your home to relieve the complication of night terrors from your life. The best techniques cause you no physical harm. But, it is highly effective in controlling the frequent episodes you or your child suffers.

Adequate Sleep

Getting adequate sleep can help you overcome sleep terrors. Fatigue can trigger the problem. One of the reasons for fatigue is sleep deprivation. Going to sleep early or following a regular sleep schedule can help you overcome the problem to an extent. Eliminating the other stimuli or the sleep-time noises can help you achieve peaceful sleep.

Relaxing Routine

Establishing a relaxing routine and following it regularly can avoid sleep terrors. So, take up calming activities like doing puzzles, reading a book or taking a warm bath before you go to bed. You can also take up relaxation exercises or meditation to relieve stress. Making your bedroom comfortable and quiet can also promote good sleep.

Make Yourself Safe

To avoid any injuries during your night terrors, you need to keep your environment safe. Prevent any problems by locking the doors and windows. Move all the electrical and sharp objects from your reach to prevent any damage. Locking all the weapons offers you safety. It also gives you peace of mind that you can never harm anyone unintentionally.

Learn To Manage Stress

You need to identify the problems that cause you to stress out. It will help you find the ideal solution to handle the problem. If your child is experiencing the problem at the school like bullying, you need to make them confide in you. It will help you understand the problem that is acting as a trigger for the night terrors. If your child is reluctant to talk to you, then seek the help of mental health professional.

Offer Your Understanding

People suffering from the night terrors need the support of their loved ones to handle it properly. Your child or loved may need your emotional support during the frightening episode. So, speaking softly and calmly can help them. Cuddling or soothing them can relieve the condition as soon as possible. Shouting or shaking people having the sleep terrors can only make things worse. Once you offer your support, the episodes feel less scary.

Identify The Patterns

People having sleep terrors need to keep a diary. It must contain the detailed time and duration of the sleep terror occurrences. If you see a consistent pattern, then you can adopt anticipatory awakenings to overcome the problem.


Night terrors can disrupt your sleep pattern completely. But, you can handle the short-lived episodes with good care and the right steps. Kids suffering from the issue can outgrow it once they reach their adolescence. If you feel the night terrors cause problems in your life, you need to take the professional help. It can help you understand the techniques and methods to overcome the problem with ease.

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