Night terror, or sleep terror, is a form of non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) parasomnia. It causes strong feelings of fear and panic during deep sleep. It tends to occur during the first half of a night’s sleep, often within 30 to 90 minutes from falling asleep.

This sleep disorder is rare, and often affects younger children more than adults. A child normally outgrows it by adolescence. During an episode of night terror, the sleeping individual might suddenly shout or scream and sit upright, looking shocked. His heartbeat and breathing might be faster. He might sweat, kick or thrash around, and appear intense and scared.  Although his eyes are wide-open, he does not respond to anyone calling him. After five minutes to half an hour, he usually calms down and falls back to sleep without remembering the episode the next day.

It is best not to try to wake him as it could lead to more frantic behaviour. Give him time to calm down and he will go back to sleep naturally.

The difference between night terrors and nightmares is that night terrors occur during non-REM sleep, and one cannot recall what happened the next day, whereas nightmares occur during REM sleep, where one remembers the nightmares when he is awake.

The causes of night terrors are noted to be triggered by:

  • Fever in children
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Stress
  • Trauma
  • Alcohol (adults)

Sleep terror can occur when sleep is fragmented by other sleeping problems. Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) is a common medical problem that can lead to frequent arousals from sleep. This may increase the occurrence of sleep terror. Treatment of OSA may improve sleep terrors.

Consult our senior specialist Dr YT Pang at CENTAS for an accurate diagnosis of your sleep problem. Treatment for sleep disorders results in improved physical and mental health and enhanced quality of life.