Night terrors in adults: symptoms, causes and treatment

Night terrors are usually associated with childhood. Many boys and girls suffer from these episodes, in which they start screaming, hitting and having a really bad night, scary and worried their parents with their sobs.

However, although it is not common, some adults may experience these episodes. They usually have the same symptoms as in children, although the causes can be associated with psychological problems and do not go away on their own, unlike in childhood.

Then we will talk about night terrors in adults, what are the main causes that may be behind them, what are the consequences in the life of the person presenting them, their treatment and their main symptoms.

    How are night terrors in adults?

    Night terrors are a sleep disorder in which the sufferer wakes up suddenly, terrified and anxious.

    She is so scared that she screams loudly, alerting the people who are in her same house. She notices how her heart is beating, she is drenched in sweat and she feels confused because she doesn’t remember what happened.

    Normally when you go through one of these episodes you are unaware of the surroundings, although you can kick and kick yourself and hurt yourself and others. These episodes usually last 10 to 20 minutes, and as soon as they have passed, those who have suffered go back to sleep. These episodes usually appear during the deep phase of sleep. and occur more frequently during the first half of sleep.

    What causes these sleep disturbances?

    Night terrors are a sleep problem that usually occurs during childhood and eventually goes away with age. however, they can also occur in adulthood and do not go away on their own.

    Often times, these problems are manifested when the patient has gone through a period of great stress or exhibits a psychological problem, both related to his personality and to his recent experiences. The main causes of these episodes are:

    • Stress and emotional tension
    • anxiety
    • depression
    • bipolar disorder
    • Fatigue and lack of sleep

    Many people with post-traumatic stress disorder experience these types of episodes.. They can also occur in people with other anxiety disorders and related to trauma and stressors. They can also manifest as times of many changes and high stress, such as losing a loved one, having been in an accident, going through a separation, or having recently been diagnosed with an illness.

    Another cause that may explain the onset of night terrors in adults is family history. It is suspected that there could be some hereditary cause in their manifestation, as having direct relatives who have lived with them increases the likelihood of suffering from this problem.

    Finally, as a result of these episodes, we also have a high fever and substance use, whether medication or drugs. Drugs, substances such as alcohol and fever can alter the phases of sleep, Making them deeper and increasing the likelihood of night terrors in adults.


      There are several symptoms of night terrors. In order to know if these episodes are occurring, it is necessary to check if any of the following symptoms have occurred:

      • Waking up suddenly screaming, terrified and very distressed.
      • Waking up with the feeling of being in danger.
      • Feeling confused when you wake up
      • Don’t remember what happened during the night
      • They tried to calm us down and wake us up, but they couldn’t.

      If any of these symptoms have appeared, suspicion of episodes of night terror may be suspected. Likewise, there are many symptoms associated with this sleep disorder. Usually, in an episode of night terror, the person experiences very unpleasant sensations, visualizes negative images while sleeping, and may speak, moan, scream, sob and cry.

      Another of the symptoms associated with this problem is that the person moves excessively while sleeping. This puts you at risk of injury, injuring the person sleeping next to you, and even falling out of bed. When she wakes up she will find herself screaming, very anxious and terrified, all sweaty, hyperventilating and with a fast heart rate. She will feel confused and disoriented.

      Sleepwalking episodes can occur. The affected person may sleep with their eyes open and even fall asleep. He does not react to attempts by people around him to wake him up and reassure him. When you wake up, you probably don’t remember anything about what happened.


      Night terrors, when it comes to a sleep disorder, affects the quality of sleep. The person does not sleep well, which is noticeable the next day in the form of fatigue, low mood and tiredness. It causes a lot of frustration, which can lead to depression and other psychological issues when you want to rest and not be able to.

      The person may develop insomnia because they are worried that when they fall asleep they will have another episode and injures or harms a loved one.

      This insomnia and daytime sleepiness typical of night terrors affects not only the affected person, but also their immediate environment. When she suffers from the episodes, when she starts screaming, moving violently and even walking causes people to wake up at home, make an effort to calm her down and spend the night in fear that the affected person will be hurt.

      When to seek help

      Episodes of night terror, if sporadically occurring and associated with temporary problems, should not be a red flag. On the other hand, if they start to be frequent, because they affect the energies of the affected person, it is necessary to go to a professional to try to do it.

      In addition, the physical integrity of the patient and their immediate environment is at stake, so in some cases it is necessary to enter sleep clinics to monitor the episode in a safe environment.

      Treatment of night terrors in adults

      Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment to cure episodes of night terrors in adults. Treatment focuses on improving the quality of the patient’s sleep, Try to reduce the frequency of episodes and their effect on mood in those affected. Psychotherapy and drug use are usually the first option with the intention of tackling this problem.

      The psychotherapist will try to find out what psychological problems explain the start of the episode, such as stress, depression, trauma or any mental and emotional problems that may be related to this sleep disorder. Medicines can be used to reduce the symptoms associated with this condition, such as lack of energy and insomnia.

      While not as effective as psychotherapy and psychopharmacology, the use of techniques such as hypnosis, different types of meditation, and yoga may reduce the frequency and severity of episodes. Exercising can also prevent these episodes and reduce them, although they are not as effective a therapeutic route as psychotherapy and medication.

      It is essential that whether or not you have experienced this type of episode, you have good sleep hygiene.. You should go to bed between 10 and 12 p.m., sleep from 7 to 9 a.m., and not take stimulants from the afternoon onwards. Consumption of alcohol and other drugs that may affect the quality and regularity of sleep should be avoided.

      References bibliographic:

      • Guzman ,, C .; Wang, Y (2008). Sleep terror disorder: a case report. Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry 115 (11): 169. doi: 10.1590 / S1516-44462008000200016.
      • Szelenberger, W .; Niemcewicz, S. and Dąbrowska, A. (2005). Sleepwalking and night terrors: psychopathological and psychophysiological correlates. International Journal of Psychiatry 32 (12): 263-270. doi: 10.1080 / 09540260500104573

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