Night Terrors

Night terrors (also called sleep terrors) are frightening instances in which a person screams, cries, even jumps from bed, while still fully asleep. These episodes can be very unsettling to the bed partner or others in the living situation and may result in bodily harm to the sleeper or others. The person may not awaken until the episode is over and may remember nothing of the incident.

You may recall that in non-REM sleep, physical movement is not restricted as it is in REM sleep. Since both sleepwalking and night terrors occur during NREM sleep, the person can move about freely while still technically asleep. Night terrors are often confused with nightmares but are not the same (see sidebar below).

Approximately three percent of adults have night terrors, and 15 percent of children and adolescents experience them. Night terrors are believed to occur when there is a disruption in the nervous system, often triggered by stress, sleep deprivation, or sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings.

Some sleep experts believe that sleepwalking and night terrors are two manifestations of the same disorder, with sleepwalking being the mildest form and night terrors the most severe. In children, this disorder usually disappears as they mature. Treatment for adult night terrors may include much the same approaches that are used for adult sleepwalkers -- prescription medication, hypnotherapy, psychotherapy, and stress-management techniques.

While night terrors can disrupt sleep, some people have difficulty falling asleep at all. The next page will introduce you to the wide-ranging condition of insomnia.

Night Terrors vs. Nightmares
Night terrors occur in non-REM sleep, while nightmares (also called dream anxiety attacks) take place in REM. You may recall that dreaming only occurs in REM sleep, and when you are dreaming, your body is physically unable to move.

So if you were having a nightmare, you wouldn't be able to grab that baseball bat stored in your bedroom closet to ward off your imagined attackers. The act of getting out of bed or verbally yelling or crying during sleep is more likely to be a night terror than a nightmare.

For more information on how to get a good night's sleep, see:

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.