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What to Know About Night Terrors

Night terrors, or sleep terrors, are a type of sleep disorder that causes you to suddenly jolt awake from your sleep in a panic. They’re often extremely frightening, and unfortunately, adults and children alike experience them on occasion. If you have night terrors, they will likely disrupt your sleep regularly and cause you to lose sleep when they occur. Although it may seem like they’re keeping you from getting enough rest, they generally aren’t harmful and won’t cause long-term effects on your health. Instead, they’re more of an annoyance than anything else. The good news is that there are many ways to prevent or reduce the frequency of night terrors if they continue to be a problem for you. In this article, we’ll explore the symptoms of night terrors, what causes them, how frequently they occur, and how you can cope better with them moving forward.

What is a Night Terror? A night terror is a sleep disorder that causes you to suddenly wake up in a panic in the middle of the night. They are also sometimes referred to as sleepwalking, although they are different from sleepwalking in a few key ways. The main difference between night terrors and sleepwalking is that people who experience sleepwalking are partially awake and can be spoken to and interacted with. Those who experience night terrors, however, are in a state of extreme sleep deprivation and are often confused, disoriented, and unable to respond to others. People who experience sleepwalking will remember the episode and often have no recollection of the episode. By comparison, those who experience night terrors have no memory of the episode whatsoever. Another key difference between the two is that people who experience sleepwalking can be woken up and will often return to their normal sleep patterns after being awakened. Night terrors, however, are a disorder and cannot be woken up from.

(Image credit: Scripps)

How Frequently Do Night Terrors Occur?

The frequency of night terrors varies between people and will likely be different for everyone. Some people may experience them only a few times in their lives, while others may experience them on a regular or even frequent basis. The frequency of night terrors can vary based on a number of factors, including how well rested you are, how old you are, your general stress level, and if you are taking any medications. Night terrors are most common in children between the ages of 2 and 8 years old. Their frequency then decreases in adulthood but may increase again as one gets older.

What Causes Night Terrors?

The exact reason why some people experience night terrors is still unclear. We do, however, have an idea about possible causes for the disorder. Sleep deprivation is the most common cause of night terrors, although the disorder can also be caused by certain medications, health conditions, and excessive stress. For those who experience night terrors as a result of sleep deprivation, the best way to prevent them is to get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation can be caused by many things, including sleep disorders, stress, and sleep apnea. People who are elderly and those who suffer from other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, are particularly likely to experience night terrors as a result of sleep deprivation.

Tips to Help Reduce the Frequency of Night Terrors

If you experience night terrors on a regular basis, there are a number of ways you can reduce their frequency. With proper sleep hygiene, you can reduce the frequency of night terrors caused by sleep deprivation. In other words, you can improve your sleep quality and quantity by paying attention to the following factors:

  • Make sleep a priority: The best way to reduce the frequency of night terrors is by prioritizing sleep. Make sure you go to bed early enough every night and that you get enough sleep.

  • Avoid sleep deprivation: If you are a parent, keeping your child from sleeping in your bed can be one way to prevent sleep deprivation. If you work irregular hours or have other responsibilities that keep you up at night, you may want to speak to your employer about adjusting your work hours.

  • Silence your bedroom: Make sure your bedroom is as quiet as possible to prevent yourself from being startled awake by an unexpected sound.

  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants before bedtime: Caffeine and other stimulants will keep you awake and can even cause you to stay awake longer.


If you do experience night terrors, don’t worry; they are generally harmless and are even more common in children than in adults. They are often caused by sleep deprivation, high levels of stress, or a sleep disorder. Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent or reduce their frequency. By paying attention to your sleep hygiene, reducing your stress levels, and getting enough sleep, you can reduce the frequency of night terrors. If they continue to be a problem for you, speak with your doctor about treatment options.


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