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
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