home
RSS
Get Some Sleep: Night terrors explained
February 1st, 2011
01:11 PM ET

Get Some Sleep: Night terrors explained

Lisa Shives, M.D., is the founder of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Illinois. She blogs on Tuesdays on The Chart. Read more from her at Dr. Lisa Shives’ Sleep Better Blog.

Emily is an 8-year old girl with no past medical problems who was brought to my sleep center by her mother because of “terrible nightmares.” Her mother reports that at least three times a week, Emily “wakes up with a blood-curdling scream.”

Her parents usually find her sitting up in her bed, with her eyes wide open; she appears terrified and acts agitated and confused. When this first started, they would try to hold her and comfort her, but she would push them away and appeared even more upset, so now they just watch her until she goes back to sleep which is usually within a few minutes. Emily has no memory of these episodes.

They seemed to start a few months ago and were becoming more frequent. Her parents can almost set their clock by these episodes because they occur two hours after she falls asleep ,which these days is around 9:30 pm. Mom is worried that Emily might have “psychological problems.” She does well in school and appears to be a happy child. She does appear tired lately, her mother reports, but never naps. She has had strep throat in the past six months and in general she gets frequent sore throats.

This is a classic presentation of night terrors, a common parasomnia that occurs in 1%-6% of children. They are very unsettling to witness, because an episode begins with a piercing scream and children appear terrified. They are found to have rapid breathing, racing heart and sweatiness. However, it is rare for children to report a nightmare associated with the night terror and typically they do not remember the night terror episode. And night terrors almost never represent a psychological or psychiatric problem in children.

We don’t know what causes night terrors but they are classified among the arousal disorders, or  conditions in which someone seems half-awake and half asleep, partially aroused from a deep sleep. Actually, the children are only partially awake even though their eyes are open. They do not respond to their environment and, as Emily’s parents discovered, they seem more upset if someone attempts to comfort them or wake them. Sometimes, they can fall out of bed or have a sleepwalking episode associated with the night terror so it is good that Emily’s parents stay with her until the episode is over.

These and other parasomnias such as sleepwalking do tend to run in families. Causes can include include sleep deprivation and obstructive sleep apnea. In this case, partial sleep deprivation was determined to be a contributing factor. Emily had been accustomed to going to bed at 8 p.m., but a few months before the night terrors began her family started eating dinner later because her father was coming home late. Therefore, her bedtime was pushed later by one to two hours.

When she returned to her 8 p.m. bedtime, the night terrors decreased to once a week. I was still concerned that her large tonsils and rough breathing at night meant that she might be at risk for obstructive sleep apnea.

Sure enough, Emily was found to have moderate obstructive sleep apnea that resolved after a tonsillectomy with adenoidectomy. The night terrors decreased to one episode every two or three months. The chances are that she will outgrow the night terrors completely when she enters her teen years.


soundoff (193 Responses)
  1. JJ

    I had night terrors for years and then found out that I was hypothyroid. Once I started taking synthroid, the night terrors stopped. A cure?

    April 28, 2012 at 09:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Christy Aspegren

    Alege elegant si simplu, alege online! Rochii Online iti aduce cele mai noi colectii de rochii din Marea Britanie. Indiferent daca esti in cautare de: Rochii de Ocazie, Rochii Club, Rochii de Vara 2012 sau Rochii Office Rochii Online este locul potrivit. Preturi mici si calitate maxima, numai pe RochiiOnline.me. Reduceri la doar un click distanta. Alege eficient si elegant!

    July 23, 2013 at 02:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. billguillen6

    Yes but there is another dimension to night terrors that remains unmentioned. In fact it is unmentioned because it is unmentionable. It is the experience of the abyss.

    July 25, 2013 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Malcolm Tencza

    This web site is mostly a walk-through for all the information you needed about this and didn�t know who to ask. Glimpse here, and you�ll undoubtedly discover it.

    July 30, 2013 at 16:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Maurine Gunderman

    There are definitely numerous details like that to take into consideration. That may be a great point to deliver up. I supply the thoughts above as basic inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you deliver up where crucial thing can be working in trustworthy good faith. I don?t know if greatest practices have emerged around things like that, but I am positive that your job is clearly identified as a fair game. Both boys and girls feel the impression of just a moment�s pleasure, for the rest of their lives.

    July 31, 2013 at 03:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Brendan Rathgeb

    You made some respectable factors there. I regarded on the web for the difficulty and located most people will go together with together with your website.

    July 31, 2013 at 04:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Refugio Palomaki

    An interesting dialogue is worth comment. I think that it's best to write extra on this topic, it might not be a taboo topic however generally people are not sufficient to talk on such topics. To the next. Cheers

    August 1, 2013 at 03:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Wilton Jonathan

    This web page is mostly a walk-by for the entire data you wished about this and didn�t know who to ask. Glimpse here, and you�ll positively discover it.

    August 2, 2013 at 03:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Eusebio Flauding

    This is the right blog for anyone who needs to seek out out about this topic. You understand so much its virtually exhausting to argue with you (not that I truly would wantHaHa). You undoubtedly put a new spin on a topic thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just great!

    August 5, 2013 at 03:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Broderick Durio

    You need to participate in a contest for the most effective blogs on the web. I'll recommend this site!

    August 5, 2013 at 19:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Phil Mathewson

    It�s exhausting to seek out educated individuals on this matter, however you sound like you understand what you�re speaking about! Thanks

    August 6, 2013 at 03:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Boyd Johns

    I discovered your blog web site on google and check a few of your early posts. Continue to keep up the superb operate. I just extra up your RSS feed to my MSN News Reader. Seeking forward to reading more from you in a while!

    August 6, 2013 at 12:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Gaston Fuerman

    I discovered your blog site on google and verify a number of of your early posts. Continue to keep up the very good operate. I just additional up your RSS feed to my MSN News Reader. In search of forward to reading more from you later on!

    August 9, 2013 at 03:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Francoise Besser

    The following time I learn a weblog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as a lot as this one. I imply, I do know it was my option to learn, however I really thought youd have one thing attention-grabbing to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about one thing that you could repair if you werent too busy searching for attention.

    August 10, 2013 at 05:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Jessenia Bocage

    This web site is known as a stroll-through for all of the info you wanted about this and didn�t know who to ask. Glimpse right here, and also you�ll definitely uncover it.

    August 14, 2013 at 03:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Minnie Chewning

    An impressive share, I simply given this onto a colleague who was doing a bit evaluation on this. And he the truth is purchased me breakfast because I discovered it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the deal with! However yeah Thnkx for spending the time to debate this, I really feel strongly about it and love studying extra on this topic. If potential, as you develop into experience, would you thoughts updating your weblog with extra particulars? It's extremely useful for me. Huge thumb up for this weblog submit!

    August 16, 2013 at 03:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Timothy

    I am 43 and have had night terrors since I was a young boy. Mostly voices when I was young. In college it got bad, really bad images. After college I had to ask my girlfriend to please WAKE ME UP when I started to scream, but she didn't think it necessary. Now, my wife has grown to learn when she should wake me up. I am not violent, Just screaming out of breath. I cannot go to sleep without the TV on, because I have taught my brain that Reality is a TV and no TV is a Terror. When I am actually awake, I see a TV. This is a very bad condition, and I feel for anyone who has any form of it..... People don't understand how it effects us.

    December 26, 2013 at 18:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Jamey Feiteira

    I just could not go away your website before suggesting that I extremely loved the standard info an individual provide for your visitors? Is gonna be back ceaselessly in order to check up on new posts

    http://www.oceanreefluxuryrealestate.com/

    December 27, 2013 at 08:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. John D. Arellano

    It's practically impossible to find well-updated users on this subject, yet somehow you seem like you know the things that you're writing about! Cheers
    John D. Arellano http://www.collegespringbreak2014.com

    April 23, 2014 at 01:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Mitchell J. Macklin

    It can be near close to impossible to come across well-informed users on this matter, however you appear like you are familiar with the things that you're writing on! Appreciate It
    Mitchell J. Macklin http://www.electricmultiverses.info

    April 23, 2014 at 01:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. zabor ilenta

    Thank you for every other great post. The place else could anyone get that type of information in such a perfect approach of writing? I've a presentation subsequent week, and I am at the look for such info.

    http://www.zaborilenta.com/

    April 29, 2014 at 04:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Richard D. Davis

    My Partner And I merely want to notify you which I'm just fresh to having a blog and genuinely liked your information. More than likely I am inclined to bookmark your article post . You absolutely have wonderful article content. Delight In it for expressing with us your url write-up.
    Richard D. Davis http://www.degian.org

    May 8, 2014 at 20:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Monica

    My son is only 15 months old but has been getting night terrors since before he was 1. They are very scary and one thing he does during these episode is have his arms pinned to his side. He is lying face up and it looks as if someone is pinning him down. When I try to soothe him, he scratches at me and attempts to get away from me as if I'm hurting him. I've done a lot of research and found commonalities in the age range night terrors will occur. No where did I find night terrors occurring in children less than 18 months. He has been getting them since he was around 8 months old and is 15 months old now. Is this normal and should I be worried? Also, I was diagnosed with Hypersomnia, can that be a factor of why he is have bought terrors? Thank you for your time and I hope you can help.

    July 15, 2014 at 23:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Monica

    Sorry there was and error in the second to last sentence.
    *Also, I was diagnosed with Hypersomnia, can that be a factor of why he is having night terrors?

    July 16, 2014 at 00:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Hannah

    I've been sufferig from severe night terrors since I was 20. Last year I started a gluten free diet and after about two weeks the terrors were gone! I can recommend anyone suffering from night terrors to start eating gluten free. I know it takes a lot of commitment but not having the terrors anymore is an incredible relieve!

    August 15, 2014 at 18:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Ejemplos de adverbios

    Certainly, all right. Very good entry.
    Ejemplos de adverbios http://mijaillamas.blogspot.com.es/2014/06/aprendamos-escribir-como-usamos-los.html

    September 8, 2014 at 18:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. zaborilenta

    Valuable info. Lucky me I found your site by accident, and I'm shocked why this accident did not happened earlier! I bookmarked it.

    http://www.zaborilenta.com/

    September 26, 2014 at 03:19 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

Advertisement
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.