Better Sleep Starts Now

Take the Sleep Assessment
Night Terrors: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment | Sleep Reset

What to Do if You Have Night Terrors

Night terrors are a sleep disorder that can cause someone to wake up screaming and thrashing with an appearance of intense fright. Though night terrors may seem like a traumatic experience, the individual often won’t remember the episode the next morning.

It’s understandable to be concerned about night terrors, but knowing more about them can help with treatment and managing them. In this article, we’ll talk about the symptoms, causes, and treatment for night terrors. Read on to learn more.

Learn How To Fix Your Sleep Issues

What Are Night Terrors?

Night terrors are a type of parasomnia, or a disruptive sleep-related disorder. Specifically, it’s an arousal disorder that occurs during non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep stages. Night terror episodes occur during the first few hours of the night and will usually only last a few minutes, although they can sometimes last for 10 minutes or more.

Many people are familiar with nightmares, but night terrors are a rarer occurrence. Seeing someone having a night terror episode can be a frightening experience, but the biggest problem they cause is disruption of sleep stages. Night terrors can cause someone to scream and flail during sleep, while also being unresponsive to someone trying to wake them up. Someone who experiences a night terror typically won’t remember the episode the next morning, or if they do, they will remember very little of a dream leading up to the night terror. It’s also hard to predict how often night terrors will occur, with some people having them multiple times per month and others having them very rarely.

Common Symptoms

If someone is having night terrors, they will often scream and panic. They may also have their eyes open and be unresponsive to anyone trying to help. 

These are some of the symptoms that can classify a night terror episode:

  • Sudden screaming or flailing while asleep
  • The appearance of intense fear or fright
  • Wide-eyed staring
  • Difficult to awaken
  • Confusion if they are able to be awakened
  • Sweating
  • Heavy breathing
  • Flushed skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Tensing
  • May try to escape or fight others trying to help
  • Little to no memory of the night terror episode
  • May lead to sleepwalking

Someone having a night terror can be difficult to console. It’s important to be careful in these situations, as their thrashing and fright could cause injury to those trying to help.

Common Causes

There are a variety of factors that can cause night terrors. Knowing these triggers and addressing them may help to reduce the frequency of night terrors. 

Here are a few of the causes to be aware of:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Sleep being interrupted frequently
  • Illness
  • Stress
  • Medication side effects
  • Other sleep disorders like sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome
  • Mood disorders
  • Alcohol or drugs
  • Family history

Are They The Same as Nightmares?

Night terrors and nightmares are two different things. Nightmares are more common and involve dreams that are frightening or upsetting. Nightmares will typically occur during the REM stage and rarely will cause someone to react physically or vocally. Nightmares are also more memorable since they’re occurring during a time of high brain activity.

Night terrors typically occur during the deepest stage of sleep, which is a non-REM stage. In night terrors, it’s common for someone to act out physically or vocally. Also, someone experiencing a sleep terror usually won’t wake up from it, whereas nightmares may cause you to wake up. Those with night terrors rarely remember anything from the episode or the episode even happening.

Nightmares and night terrors are both more common in children and will start during adolescence.

Who Experiences Night Terrors?

While anyone can experience night terrors, they’re much more common in children. Typically, night terrors will be outgrown by the time a child reaches adulthood or adolescence. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of who can experience night terrors and how common it is:

Night Terrors for Children

  • Children typically experience night terrors more than any other age group. They can start as early as 2 years old. The common age group for night terror is between 2 years and 12 years old.

Night Terrors in Preteens and Teenagers

  • Night terrors are less common past the age of 12 years old. If they do occur past the age of 12, it’s likely that the individual experienced them as a child too. It may resolve by the time they reach adulthood.

Night Terrors in Adults

  • Night terrors are least common in adults, especially adults over the age of 65. If adults have a childhood history of night terrors, they may be more prone to having them when they’re experiencing periods of high stress or duress in their life. 

No matter what age you’re experiencing night terrors, it’s a good idea to seek treatment. This is especially the case with adults, as they can be a danger to themselves and others if they flail and fight back while they’re experiencing night terrors.

Treatment

Fortunately, there are ways to manage night terrors through different forms of treatment, but first, it’s important to know what to do if someone is experiencing a night terror episode.

Should You Wake Someone Who Is Having Night Terrors?

If a child or partner is having a night terror, you may want to help and comfort them. But you shouldn’t try to wake them, and it’s best to stay nearby without getting too close. You should only interfere if they’re going to fall or hurt themselves. If you try to wake someone who is having a night terror, you may prolong their episode or risk injury to yourself or the person having the night terror. If a person is left alone, a night terror shouldn’t last much longer than a few minutes, and they won’t remember their fear the next day. Make sure that their sleep environment is as safe as possible if they have repeated occurrences of night terrors.

Now that you know how to respond to a night terror, let’s look at some potential treatment options.

Night Terror Treatment for Children

  • In many cases, night terror treatment may not be necessary for children. If your child only has an occasional night terror, there is a good chance that they will outgrow them and the disorder will resolve itself.
  • If night terrors are frequent — more than a couple of times per month — you may want to consider a visit to the doctor to discuss options. They may want to test your child for underlying conditions that could be contributing to their night terrors. In some cases, they may recommend medication.

Night Terror Treatment for Teenagers and Adults

  • If an individual is experiencing night terrors past the age of 12, it may be worth visiting a sleep specialist. They can conduct a sleep study to see if a sleep disorder could be contributing to the night terrors. A doctor visit to diagnose potential underlying conditions is also recommended.

Night Terror Treatment for All Ages

  • No matter how old you are, sleep habits and certain lifestyle choices could be contributing to the occurrence of night terrors. It’s recommended to improve sleep hygiene to address these habits and get better quality sleep. Sleep hygiene involves creating a good sleep environment and forming healthy sleep habits. If you have good sleep habits, you may be able to reduce the frequency of night terrors or get rid of them altogether.
  • The first step of good sleep hygiene is creating a comfortable sleep environment. Make sure your sleep environment is cool, quiet, and dark. Also, make sure your bedding and mattress are comfortable. For those individuals who experience night terrors, make sure the area around the bed doesn’t have anything that could hurt the person if they start thrashing from a night terror episode.
  • Sleep hygiene also requires you to form good sleep habits. This includes sticking to a sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine later in the day, exercising to promote better sleep, avoiding late-night meals, getting enough sleep, and addressing any sleep disorders. Adults who experience night terrors should also watch their alcohol intake close to bedtime. It’s best to stop at least four hours before you plan on going to sleep.

If you’re wanting to improve your sleep hygiene to address your night terrors, Sleep Reset can help.

Start Sleeping Better Today!

If you’re dealing with sleep concerns and want to start sleeping better, choose Sleep Reset. Sleep Reset provides a personalized sleep solution with a dedicated sleep coach who will help you achieve long-lasting results, form better sleep habits, and get deeper sleep. Sleep Reset is an all-natural, no-pills solution so you don’t have to worry about side effects or dependencies. 

Sleep Reset is backed by science and uses proven sleep methods to help you fall asleep faster, stop waking up in the middle of the night, and wake up well rested. By improving your sleep hygiene, you may be able to resolve your night terrors or greatly reduce their frequency.

Take our sleep assessment today to find out how Sleep Reset can help you with your night terrors.

Start Sleeping
Better Today!

Take the Sleep Assessment