Pavor nocturnus; Sleep terror disorder
Definition of Night terror
Night terrors are a sleep disorder in which a person quickly awakens from sleep in a terrified state.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Night terrors (sleep terrors) occur during deep sleep, usually during the first third of the night. The cause is unknown but night terrors may be triggered by fever, lack of sleep, or periods of emotional tension, stress, or conflict.
Night terrors are most common during the first third of the night, often between midnight and 2 a.m.
Signs and tests
In many cases, no further examination or testing is needed. If the night terror is severe or prolonged, the child may need a psychological evaluation.
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 (such as diazepam) used at bedtime will often reduce night terrors; however, medication is rarely recommended to treat this disorder.
Most children outgrow night terrors in a short period of time. They don’t usually remember the event. Stress reduction and/or psychotherapy may be helpful for night terror in adults.
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 6/2/2009