Night terror

Alternative Names

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.

Symptoms

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.

Treatment

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.

Expectations (prognosis)

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.

Review

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

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

Article written by

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (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.