Sleep terrors differ from nightmares. The dreamer of a nightmare wakes up from the dream and remembers details, but a person who has a sleep terror episode remains asleep. Children usually don't remember anything about their sleep terrors in the morning. Adults may recall a dream fragment they had during the sleep terrors.
Like sleepwalking and nightmares, sleep terrors are a parasomnia — an undesired occurrence during sleep. Sleep terrors usually occur during the first third of the sleep period.
During a sleep terror episode, a person might:
- Sit up in bed
- Scream or shout
- Kick and thrash
- Sweat, breathe heavily and have a racing pulse
- Be hard to awaken
- Be inconsolable
- Get out of bed and run around the house
- Engage in violent behavior (more common in adults)
- Stare wide-eyed
When to see a doctor
Occasional sleep terrors aren't usually a cause for concern. If your child has sleep terrors, you can simply mention them at a routine well-child exam.
Consult your doctor if your or your child's sleep terrors:
Aug. 12, 2011
- Become more frequent
- Routinely disrupt sleep or the sleep of other family members
- Cause you or your child to fear going to sleep
- Lead to dangerous behavior or injury
- Appear to follow the same pattern each time
- Parasomnias. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merck.com/mmpe/print/sec16/ch215/ch215f.html. Accessed June 16, 2011.
- Overnight sleep study. Sleepeducation.com. http://yoursleep.aasmnet.org/Topic.aspx?id=12. Accessed June 10, 2011.
- Sleep terrors. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. http://yoursleep.aasmnet.org/Disorder.aspx?id=13. Accessed June 16, 2011.
- National sleep disorders research plan. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/prof/sleep/res_plan/section5/section5a.html. Accessed June 7, 2011.
- Matwiyoff J, et al. Parasomnias: An overview. Indian Journal of Medical Research. 2010;131:333.
- Avidan AY, et al. The parasomnias: Epidemiology, clinical features, and diagnostic approach. Clinics in Chest Medicine. 2010;31:353.
- Attarian H. Treatment options for parasomnias. Neurological Clinics. 2010;28:1089.
- Stores G. Aspects of parasomnias in childhood and adolescents. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 2009;94:63.
You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.