Site Map

Night terrors in children

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.

I Would Like to Learn About:

Causes

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

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.

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 night terror episodes occur often, the child should be evaluated by a health care provider. If needed, tests such as a sleep study, can be done to rule out a sleep disorder.

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 provider if:

Prevention

Minimizing stress or using coping mechanisms may reduce night terrors.

Related Information

Drowsiness
Stress and your health
Nightmares
Incidence

References

American Academy of Pediatrics website. Nightmares and night terrors in preschoolers. www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/preschool/Pages/Nightmares-and-Night-Terrors.aspx. Updated October 18, 2018. Accessed April 22, 2019.

Avidan AY. Non-rapid eye movement parasomnias: clinical spectrum, diagnostic features, and management. In: Kryger M, Roth T, Dement WC, eds. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 102.

Owens JA. Sleep medicine. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 31.

BACK TO TOP

Review Date: 4/4/2019  

Reviewed By: Liora C. Adler, MD, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, Hollywood, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

ADAM Quality Logo

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, for Health Content Provider (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics. This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information: verify here.

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- 2021 A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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