Sleep terror symptoms

Nightmares and Night Terrors | Johns Hopkins Medicine

What are night terrors?

Night terrors are a sleep disorder in which a person quickly awakens from sleep in a terrified state. The cause is unknown but night terrors are often triggered by fever, lack of sleep or periods of emotional tension, stress or conflict. Night terrors are like nightmares, except that nightmares usually occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and are most common in the early morning. Night terrors usually happen in the first half of the night. Also, night terrors are most common in preadolescent boys, though they are fairly common in children three to five years old.

The following are common characteristics of a night terror:

  • Sudden awakening from sleep

  • Persistent fear or terror that occurs at night

  • Screaming

  • Sweating

  • Confusion

  • Rapid heart rate

  • No recall of bad dreams or nightmares

  • Unable to fully wake up

  • Difficult to comfort

How to help a child during a night terror

  • Try to help your child return to normal sleep.  Do not try to awaken your child. Make soothing comments. Hold your child if it seems to help him or her feel better. Shaking or shouting at your child may cause the child to become more upset.

  • Protect your child against injury. During a night terror, a child can fall down a stairway, run into a wall, or break a window. Try to gently direct your child back to bed.

  • Prepare babysitters for these episodes. Explain to people who care for your child what a night terror is and what to do if one happens.

  • Try to prevent night terrors. A night terror can be triggered if your child becomes overly-tired. Be sure your child goes to bed at a regular time, and early enough to give him or her enough sleep. Younger children may need to return to a daily nap.

In many cases, a child who has a night terror only needs comfort and reassurance. Psychotherapy or counseling may be appropriate in some cases. Benzodiazepine medications used at bedtime will often reduce night terrors; however, medication is not usually recommended to treat this disorder.

When to call your child's healthcare provider

While night terrors are not harmful, they can resemble other conditions or lead to problems for the child. Consult your child's healthcare provider if you notice any of the following:

  • The child has drooling, jerking, or stiffening

  • Terrors are interrupting sleep on a regular basis

  • Terrors last longer than 30 minutes

  • Your child does something dangerous during an episode

  • Other symptoms occur with the night terrors

  • Your child has daytime fears

  • You feel family stress may be a factor

  • You have other questions or concerns about your child's night terrors

In many cases, no examination or testing is needed. If the night terror is severe or prolonged, the child may need a psychological evaluation.

What are nightmares?

Nightmares are scary dreams that awaken children and make them afraid to go back to sleep. Nightmares may happen for no known reason, but sometimes occur when your child has seen or heard things that upset him or her. These can be things that actually happen or are make-believe. Nightmares often relate to developmental stages of a child: toddlers may dream about separation from their parents; preschoolers may dream about monsters or the dark; school-aged children may dream about death or real dangers.

How to help a child with nightmares

  • Comfort, reassure, and cuddle your child.

  • Help your child talk about the bad dreams during the day.

  • Protect your child from seeing or hearing frightening movies and television shows.

  • Leave the bedroom door open (never close the door on a fearful child).

  • Provide a "security blanket" or toy for comfort.

  • Let your child go back to sleep in his or her own bed.

  • Do not spend a lot of time searching for "the monster."

  • During the bedtime routine, before your child goes to sleep, talk about happy or fun things.

  • Read some stories to your child about getting over nighttime fears.

When to call your child's healthcare provider

Consult your child's healthcare provider if you notice any of the following:

  • The nightmares become worse or happen more often

  • The fear interferes with daytime activities

  • You have other concerns or questions about your child's nightmares 

Night Terrors (for Parents) - Nemours KidsHealth

What Are Night Terrors?

Most parents have comforted their child after the occasional nightmare. But if your child has ever had what's known as a night terror (or sleep terror), his or her fear was likely inconsolable, no matter what you tried.

A night terror is a sleep disruption that seems similar to a nightmare, but is far more dramatic. Though night terrors can be alarming for parents who witness them, they're not usually cause for concern or a sign of a deeper medical issue.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Night Terrors?

During a night terror, a child might:

  • suddenly sit upright in bed
  • shout out or scream in distress
  • have faster breathing and a quicker heartbeat
  • be sweating
  • thrash around
  • act upset and scared

After a few minutes, or sometimes longer, the child simply calms down and returns to sleep.

Unlike nightmares, which kids often remember, kids won't have any memory of a night terror the next day because they were in deep sleep when it happened — and there are no mental images to recall.

What Causes Night Terrors?

Night terrors are caused by over-arousal of the central nervous system (CNS) during sleep.

Sleep happens in several stages. We have dreams — including nightmares — during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage. Night terrors happen during deep non-REM sleep. A night terror is not technically a dream, but more like a sudden reaction of fear that happens during the transition from one sleep stage to another.

Night terrors usually happen about 2 or 3 hours after a child falls asleep, when sleep moves from the deepest stage of non-REM sleep to lighter REM sleep. Usually this transition is a smooth one. But sometimes, a child becomes upset and frightened — and that fear reaction is a night terror.

Who Gets Night Terrors?

Night terrors have been noted in kids who are:

  • overtired, ill, or stressed
  • taking a new medicine
  • sleeping in a new environment or away from home
  • not getting enough sleep
  • having too much caffeine

Night terrors are relatively rare — they happen in only 3%–6% of kids, while almost every child will have a nightmare occasionally. Night terrors usually happen in kids between 4 and 12 years old, but have been reported in babies as young as 18 months. They seem to be a little more common among boys.

Some kids may inherit a tendency for night terrors — about 80% who have them have a family member who also had them or sleepwalking (a similar type of sleep disturbance).

A child might have a single night terror or several before they stop. Most of the time, night terrors simply disappear on their own as the nervous system matures.

How Can I Help My Child?

Night terrors can be very upsetting for parents, who might feel helpless when they can't comfort their child. The best way to handle a night terror is to wait it out patiently and make sure your child doesn't get hurt if thrashing around. Kids usually will settle down and return to sleep on their own in a few minutes.

It's best not to try to wake kids during a night terror. This usually doesn't work, and kids who do wake are likely to be disoriented and confused, and may take longer to settle down and go back to sleep.

There's no treatment for night terrors, but you can help prevent them. Try to:

  • reduce your child's stress
  • create a bedtime routine that's simple and relaxing
  • make sure your child gets enough rest
  • help your child from becoming overtired
  • don't let your child stay up too late

If your child has a night terror around the same time every night, you can try waking him or her up about 15–30 minutes before then to see if that helps prevent it.

Understanding night terrors can ease your worry — and help you get a good night's sleep yourself. But if night terrors happen repeatedly, talk to your doctor about whether a referral to a sleep specialist is needed.

Night terrors: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment |

Night terrors are realistic dreams, quite colorful, they can wake up a person even during deep sleep. Due to the experiences that were in the nightmare, the sleeping person's heartbeat quickens. Most often, nightmares occur during rapid eye movement sleep. People usually see nightmares in their dreams closer to the morning, because the REM phase becomes longer throughout the night.


Here you can choose a doctor who treats Night Terrors If you are not sure of the diagnosis, make an appointment with a general practitioner or general practitioner to clarify the diagnosis.

Each person has an individual theme and plot of nightmares. But there are some of the most common night terror scenarios. For example, a person escapes from some danger hanging over him, runs as fast as he can, but in place, or tries to scream, but his voice disappears. Often, in nightmares, people dream that they are falling from a great height. If a person has experienced some kind of terrible trauma or a heavy loss for him, then he can experience it again and again.

It is worth distinguishing between such concepts as nightmares and night terrors. Night terrors disturb a person in the first hours of sleep. These are sensations, not dreams, which is why most often a person cannot remember what happened in this dream and describe what specifically made him wake up in a fright.

As a rule, children see nightmares in their dreams, but sometimes an adult can be disturbed and wake up by a nightmare. From 2% to 8% (this figure is constantly changing) of the population over the age of eighteen may suffer from nightmares.


A nightmare in an adult, as a rule, occurs suddenly, and it is necessarily provoked by various factors. It happens that a heavy dinner is the cause of a nightmare. A large amount of food increases the amount of processing, and the body needs to be in a state of high activity for this. In addition, various medications can cause nightmares, most often antidepressants and narcotic drugs, as well as pharmaceutical products for high blood pressure.

During the period of painful weaning from drugs, including tranquilizers and alcohol, a person may be disturbed by nightmares. In the event that a connection has been noticed between taking specific medications and nightmares, it is worth discussing this with a psychotherapist.

Poor sleep may be one of the causes of nightmares. In addition, the occurrence of nightmares can be on a psychological level. Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress are the main causes of constant recurring nightmares.

In adults, nightmares can be caused by a specific sleep disorder. These include apnea (stopping breathing during sleep lasting from ten seconds to three minutes) and restless legs syndrome (unpleasant sensations in the lower extremities, in which there is an irresistible desire to move them). People whose relatives are exposed to similar phenomena can also suffer from nightmares.


Night terrors can affect human health. People who constantly have bad dreams begin to experience anxiety and may fall into depression, in connection with this they become sickly and prone to mental pathologies. It is extremely rare that recurring nightmares lead to suicide. If a person is haunted by horrors in a dream, it is better for him to consult a doctor about this.

In addition, nightmares can cause lack of sleep, which also has a detrimental effect on the human body. Against this background, cardiovascular diseases and obesity can develop. If the nightmare was the result of untreated sleep apnea, then this can also have a very bad effect on human health.


When diagnosing such cases, the most important thing is to find the cause. The next task is to determine how you need to change your lifestyle in order to minimize the number of nightmares.


The elimination of frequent nightmares depends on the cause of their occurrence, and there are many different ways to do this. To begin with, if suddenly horrors in a dream began to haunt a person after taking some kind of medicine, then it is worth reducing the amount of intake or even replacing it in order to avoid this side effect. If the cause is sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, then it is not the appearance of nightmares that should be treated, but the disease itself. So, 70% of cases of nightmares caused by various emotional upheavals can be eliminated by changing the daily routine and lifestyle.

Imaging treatment is a cognitive-behavioral treatment technique that is often used to treat recurring PTSD-induced nightmares. Therapy works due to the fact that a person imagines events in such a way that the situation would be resolved in his favor in the best way. Sometimes special auxiliary preparations can be used with this therapy, but this is not at all necessary, since this method works fine without them if used regularly.

There are many ways to get rid of unpleasant dreams or to reduce the frequency of their occurrence. It is very helpful to stick to your sleep-wake schedule. Physical exercise, as well as yoga and meditation, are also good for coping with frequent nightmares.

Good sleep prevents the lack of sleep that can cause nightmares. The room in which a person sleeps should be absolutely adjusted for a comfortable rest. Ideally, the bedroom should be quiet and calm, and most importantly, not be associated with various troubles that happen to a person during the day. To sleep well, it is worth giving up things like caffeine, alcoholic beverages, cigarettes and all other unhealthy substances that can stay in the body for more than twelve hours. Such substances adversely affect sleep, and, accordingly, can cause nightmares.

If a doctor has prescribed drugs for night terrors, prices for drugs can be found on our website. Here you can not only find the right drug and book it at a discount, but also read the instructions and learn about possible side effects.

What are night terrors and how to deal with them


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If you jumped up in the middle of the night screaming, it was a night terror. We understand what it is, how it differs from an ordinary nightmare and how it can be treated

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The guys from the Trends team discussed this material in the episode of the Flying Podcast. You can listen on any convenient platform: in the player above, in Apple Podcasts, CastBox, Yandex.Music, Google Podcasts and wherever there are podcasts.

What is night terror

Night terror is a type of sleep disorder characterized by a sudden attack of panic or fear followed by screaming or jumping out of bed. It usually occurs in the REM stage, at the very end of the sleep cycle. During this period, the body seems to be preparing to wake up. The eyes begin to move in a chaotic direction. Heartbeats become more frequent, almost reaching the usual daily level. Breathing also accelerates, and not in an orderly manner. Legs and arms can be paralyzed for a short time. It is at this stage that we dream, as brain activity also increases. Night terror can last from one to several minutes. It most commonly affects children between the ages of 7 and 16, but 1% to 4% of adults also experience it occasionally.

Difference from nightmares

Although the terms "night terror" and "night terror" are similar, they are different phenomena. Here's how they differ:

  • Those who have had a nightmare can usually talk about what they saw, but the victims of a night terror in the morning do not remember what happened a few hours ago.
  • Night terrors usually occur during sleep. During the night terror, the person is awake.
  • Nightmare triggers are usually easy to trace, such as terrible news or a scary movie. The causes of night terror are extremely difficult to find.
  • Approximately 30% of adults experience nightmares every month, which is 10 times more than night terrors.

Night terror symptoms

Night terrors usually occur early in the night, between midnight and 3 am. Symptoms can come on very quickly and may include:

  • sudden awakening screaming;
  • throwing around the room and punching;
  • sudden increase in heart rate, sweating and breathing;
  • dilated pupils;
  • sleepwalking or even running.

What causes night terrors

Night terrors have many causes. The most common are:

  • genetic and hereditary;
  • sickness and fever;
  • sleep deprivation and severe fatigue;
  • excessive amount of physical activity during the day;
  • increased indicators of stress and emotional emptiness;
  • abuse of caffeine and alcohol;
  • certain types of drugs;
  • another sleep disorder, especially sleep apnea (sudden cessation of breathing).

How to Treat Night Terrors in Children

If your children are experiencing night terrors, you should contact your pediatrician. But do not be surprised if he offers to just wait and observe the situation. For most teenagers, this sleep disorder often resolves on its own with time. In other circumstances, he will suggest checking for serious sleep disorders.

If you wake up at night from a child's cry, then you should not make sudden movements, shake him and try to "bring him to his senses", as this will only increase fear.

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