Sleep terrors, also called night terrors, are a type of parasomnia. These sleep disorders cause irregular behavior during sleep.

While some people might describe sleep terrors as a more dramatic or intense nightmare, these are two different things.

Sleep terrors happen shortly after you fall asleep, during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Nightmares happen during REM sleep.

It is usually normal to wake up after a bad dream. After a sleep terror, you might not wake up at all.

Sleep terrors also aren’t the same as sleep paralysis, another parasomnia that happens during the transition between sleeping and waking.

During an episode of sleep paralysis, you might have the sensation of a harmful presence in your bedroom, or pressing down on you — but you can’t move or scream. This experience can feel pretty darn terrifying, but it typically ends within a minute or two, if not sooner.

To contrast, screaming and moving are very much a part of sleep terrors. You might cry out, flail, or even get of bed. In some cases, people have even fallen down stairs or jumped out of windows.

Get the details on sleep terrors.

  • Why do they happen?
  • How to deal with it.
  • When to reach out to a professional.

“Most people with sleep terrors don’t remember anything. It is often others in the household, like parents or romantic partners, who first notice the sleep problem.”

You might be affected by a sleep terror.

  • It appears to wake up by sitting up or jumping out of bed.
  • You should flail and shout.
  • Call out for help or scream in fear.
  • They have a frightened expression on their face.
  • Fight and kick to get out of the way.
  • “It seems like it’s flushed or sweaty.”
  • Have dilated pupils?
  • Heavily breathe.
  • have a rapid heart rate
  • I seem confused and panicked.
  • Speak incoherently.
  • It is difficult to wake and console.

After a sleep terror, which can last up to 20 minutes, you may:

  • As if nothing happened, fall back to sleep.
  • Have no recollection of the experience.
  • “It’s a good idea to feel tired or sleepy the next day.”

Sleep terrors usually happen within the first 3 hours of sleep. You (or your child) have a higher chance of experiencing them when:

  • under stress
  • overly stimulated
  • sleep deprived
  • running a fever
  • sleeping in a new place
  • The person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Experts don’t know exactly what causes sleep terrors, though some have suggested a link between serotonin and night terrors. A family history of sleep terrors also seems to play a part.

Other factors are known to contribute to sleep terrors.

Disrupted sleep

Poor sleep is more likely to cause sleep terrors.

A number of things can keep you from falling asleep or staying awake.

  • jet lag or other changes to your sleep schedule
  • Drug use or alcohol use.
  • Certain drugs, like The drugs antidepressants and Stimulants..
  • A bright, noisy, or warm sleeping environment.

Other sleep disorders

Having another sleep disorder may increase your chances of having sleep terrors.

These sleep conditions are listed.

Mental health conditions

If you have a mental health condition, you may have a higher chance of experiencing sleep terrors.


Some medications can contribute to other parasomnias, like vivid dreams, nightmares, and sleep walking. They could also contribute to sleep terrors in some people.

These medications are used.

Parkinson’s disease

In a 2014 study involving 661 adults with Parkinson’s disease, 3.9 percent reported having sleep terrors. Participants also reported other types of parasomnias, like sleep walking and nightmares.

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, sleep issues are common in people living with this condition, in part due to brain changes it causes. But the medications used to treat Parkinson’s disease can also have sleep-disrupting side effects.

Around 30 percent of children have sleep terrors. They tend to happen most frequently between the ages of 3 and 7, and they usually stop by the age of 10.

To contrast, only around 1 to 4 percent of adults have sleep terrors.

Sleep terrors are more common in children than in anyone else.

“Sleep terrors can have a lasting impact on health and well-being even when you don’t remember them.”

Sleep terrors can lead to:

Loss of sleep

They can affect your sleep quality and make it hard to focus the next day.

“Sleep terrors can’t wake up anyone, but other people in the household might wake up if they are sleeping in the same room. Everyone in the house might have trouble sleeping.”

If your child has a sleep terror, you might worry that it could happen again and cause you trouble sleeping.

Emotional distress

“You might feel guilty if you get sleep terrors frequently because they disrupt everyone’s sleep. It doesn’t say that sleep terrors aren’t your fault.”

If you remember the sleep terrors, you might be afraid of them. It can be hard to fall asleep if you worry about them happening again.


Sleep terrors can cause injury, one of the most serious consequences.

People who have sleep terrors may be.

  • They can hurt themselves or someone else by flailing in bed.
  • If you fall from a window or stairs, you should get out of bed.
  • When someone tries to intervene, struggle or react aggressively.

It is best to avoid waking someone during a sleep terror. If they seem at risk of getting hurt, stay close to watch their movements. You can gently guide them back to sleep.

Are you looking for ways to manage sleep terrors? Try to start with these.

  • Improve sleep hygiene. Creating a relaxing sleep environment and going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can lead to better sleep.
  • Avoid Stimulants. before sleep. Skip Stimulants. like caffeine in the hours leading up to bedtime — or consider ditching them altogether. Also check the ingredients of over-the-counter (OTC) allergy and cold medications for decongestants that might produce a stimulant effect.
  • Consider your alcohol intake. Alcohol is a depressant that initially has stimulant effects, so limiting your alcohol intake, especially before bedtime, could improve sleep and reduce your chances of having sleep terrors. Limiting or avoiding recreational drugs may also help prevent sleep terrors.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Quiet, soothing activities like taking a hot bath, listening to music, and meditating can help you relax and unwind before bed.
  • Use relaxation techniques. You have plenty of options to help relieve stress and promote relaxation. Consider incorporating different techniques, like massage or yoga, into your day. Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and journaling can also help you decompress as bedtime approaches.
  • Try scheduled awakening. If your sleep terrors tend to happen around the same time, set an alarm or ask someone to wake you up around 15 minutes beforehand. Staying awake for about 10 minutes could help prevent a sleep terror.

Helping your child with sleep terrors

The tips above work well for children with sleep terrors.

There are a few additional considerations to keep in mind.

  • “Sleep terrors won’t hurt your child, as they are scary to witness. Try to stay calm.”
  • “Don’t try to wake them during an episode because it can make them more agitated.”
  • “Unless they are in danger of hurting themselves or someone else, don’t intervene.”
  • If your child has any specific fears or worries, talk to them the morning after.
  • “If they sleepwalk or run during a sleep terror, it’s a good idea to lock doors and windows and block potential dangers.”

“People who have sleep terrors don’t usually remember them, so it’s difficult toagnosing them. They can happen occasionally and can go on for a while.”

That said, reaching out to a healthcare professional could help you identify any contributing factors. A therapist can also help you identify potential sources of stress or anxiety, or any other underlying conditions that might play a part in sleep terrors.

“If sleep terrors cause lasting daytime distress or persistent, it’s never a bad idea to connect with a sleep specialist.”

Here is how to find a sleep specialist.

There is no cure for sleep terrors. You have options to improve your rest.

Taking steps to improve sleep and relieve stress in your life can make a difference.

If the sleep terrors continue, it may be worth connecting with a healthcare professional to explore potential causes and ways to manage them.

“A Canadian writer and author named Arida Santos- Longhurst has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. She can be found frolicking around her beach town with her husband and dogs in tow or trying to master the stand-up paddle board when she isn’t holed up in her writing shed.”