Sleep terrors differ from nightmares. The dreamer of a nightmare wakes up from the dream and may remember 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. Also, nightmares generally occur in the last half of the night, while sleep terrors occur in the first half of the night.

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, but if awakened be confused
  • Be inconsolable
  • Stare wide-eyed
  • Get out of bed and run around the house
  • Engage in aggressive behavior (more common in adults)

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. However, consult your doctor if sleep terrors:

  • 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
  • Persist beyond the teen years or begin in adulthood
Aug. 12, 2014

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