Night terrors

woman having nightmare asleep.jpeg

Night terrors is the term used to describe incidents where a sleeping person may scream, thrash about, and feel terrified. Like sleepwalking or talking in your sleep, night terrors are a type of parasomnia, which is defined as unusual behaviour of the nervous system while asleep. Although children are mainly affected by night terrors and tend to grow out of them as they get older, the issue can affect adults as well.


There are a number of risks associated with night terrors, the first of which being that the person suffering from the night terrors in question may harm themselves while they are asleep. Night terrors are in some ways a very similar experience to sleepwalking, in that the person experiencing them may also get up and move around while still asleep. This can be dangerous enough with sleepwalking, but a person experiencing a night terror will be much more panicked, and much more likely to injure themselves, such as by falling down the stairs or tripping over an object, which can be especially dangerous if the person lives alone.

If the person in question lives with someone else, there is a risk that they may harm the other person, especially if they share a bed. Although most people grow out of night terrors by the time they are teenagers, if the issue continues in adulthood, the episodes can become more violent. This not only puts both parties at risk, but also makes it difficult to form and maintain romantic relationships.


Like many conditions that revolve around the mind, it can be difficult to identify the cause of night terrors in a patient. Illness, medicine, stress, sleep deprivation, new surroundings, head trauma, and other underlying sleep conditions are all possible causes of night terrors, among others. It has been observed that the condition often runs in families, so it is possible that there is a biological element to some cases, which is worth exploring if it is affecting you or someone you know.


Therapy for night terrors can vary widely on case by case basis, as each patient may have their terrors brought on by a different cause or combinations of causes. The first thing to do that can help with treatment is to keep a diary of when these episodes occur, what happens, and so on. This will help paint a clearer picture for you and your doctor. It should be noted that many adults often don’t remember that they’ve had a night terror, so you may need someone else to help keep this diary. If that is not an option, don’t worry. There are countless free apps you can download that will record any sounds you make while sleeping. This allows you to review your full night by looking only at the loudest moments, and could even provide some helpful insight to your doctor.

When visiting your doctor, you will be asked a long list of questions to try and identify any indicators to the root of the problem. If you have any theories as to what may be causing these, don’t hold back. This is an issue that occurs outside the doctor’s office, so they mainly have to rely on what you tell them.

In some cases, you made need to undergo polysomnography, otherwise known as a sleep study. This will monitor your vital signs, brainwaves, limb movements and so on in the hopes of identifying an underlying cause.

Once the underlying cause has been identified, the doctor and patient can begin working to address it. As the treatment in this case will be addressing the underlying cause and not the actual night terrors directly, the treatment process can vary significantly. Medication will usually be avoided as many drugs can actually exacerbate these problems, but medicine can be an effective treatment in some cases.

David Clarke