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Night terror

Night terror
Classification & external resources
ICD-10 F51.4
ICD-9 307.46

A night terror, also known as pavor nocturnus, is a parasomnia sleep disorder characterized by extreme terror and a temporary inability to regain full consciousness. The subject wakes abruptly from slow-wave sleep, with waking usually accompanied by gasping, moaning, or screaming. It is often impossible to fully awaken the person, and after the episode the subject normally settles back to sleep without waking. A night terror can occasionally be recalled by the subject. They typically occur during non-rapid eye movement sleep.


Night terrors versus nightmares

Night terrors are distinct from nightmares in several key ways. First, the subject is not fully awake when roused, and even when efforts are made to awaken the sleeper, he/she may continue to experience the night terror for ten to twenty minutes. Unlike nightmares, which occur during REM sleep, night terrors occur during slow-wave sleep, the deepest levels of non-REM sleep and mainly the 4th stage of sleep... click the following link to view all the stages of sleep[1]. Even if awakened, the subject often cannot remember the episode except for a sense of panic, while nightmares usually can be easily recalled. The subject often has no recollection of the incident.

Unlike nightmares, which are frequently dreams of a frightening nature, night terrors are not dreams. Usually there is no situation or event (scary or otherwise) that is dreamt, but rather the emotion of fear itself is felt. Often, this is coupled with tension and apprehension without any distinct sounds or visual imagery, although sometimes a vague object of fear is identified by the sufferer. These emotions, generally without a focusing event or scenario, increase emotions in a cumulative effect. The lack of a dream itself leaves those awakened from a night terror in a state of disorientation much more severe than that caused by a normal nightmare. This can include a short period of amnesia during which the subjects may be unable to recall their names, locations, ages, or any other identifying features of themselves.

In children

Children from age two to six are most prone to night terrors, and they affect about fifteen percent of all children,[1] (although people of any age may experience them). Episodes may recur for a couple of weeks then suddenly disappear. The symptoms also tend to be different, like the child being able to recall the experience, and while nearly awake, hallucinate. Strong evidence has shown that a predisposition to night terrors and other parasomniac disorders can be passed genetically. Though there are a multitude of triggers; emotional stress during the previous day and a high fever are thought to precipitate most episodes. Ensuring that the right amount of sleep is gained is an important factor. Special consideration must be used when the subject suffers from narcolepsy.

In adults

Though the symptoms of night terrors in adolescents and adults are similar, the etiology, prognosis and treatment are qualitatively different. Adult night terrors are much less common, trauma-based rather than genetic, chronic, and usually require treatment in the form of psychotherapy and antidepressant medication.

In addition to night terrors, some adult night terror sufferers have many of the characteristics of abused and depressed individuals including inhibition of aggression,[2] self-directed anger,[2] passivity,[3] anxiety, impaired memory,[4], and the ability to ignore pain.[5].

See also


  • Carranza, Christopher. Banishing Night Terrors and Nightmares Kensington Books, 2004.


  1. ^ Iannelli, Vincent (March 23rd, 2003). Night Terrors. Retrieved on 2007-06-04. From
  2. ^ a b Kales, J; Kales A, Soldatos CR, Caldwell AB, Charney DS & Martin ED (1980). "Night terrors. Clinical characteristics and personality patterns". Archives of General Psychiatry 37 (12): 1413-17. PMID 7447622. Retrieved on 2007-05-31.
  3. ^ Kales, JC; Cadieux RJ, Soldatos CR & Kales A. (1982). "Psychotherapy with night terror patients". American Journal of Psychotherapy 36 (3): 399-407. PMID 7149087. Retrieved on 2007-05-31.
  4. ^ Horowitz, MJ (1999). Essential papers on posttraumatic stress disorder. New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-3559-2. 
  5. ^ Chu, J (2001). Rebuilding Shattered Lives: The Responsible Treatment of Complex Post-Traumatic and Dissociative Disorders. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471247324. 
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Night_terror". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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