Sleep Education

American Academy of Sleep Medicine 

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Sleep Terrors – Diagnosis & Treatment


It is fairly normal for a child to have sleep terrors. It does not normally need medical treatment. Parents should simply keep a close watch on their child. An adult who continues or begins to have sleep terrors is at a greater risk of injury. In this case, it would be a good idea to seek a doctor’s advice. 

A sleep specialist will often ask you to complete a sleep diary for two weeks. This will give the doctor clues as to what might be causing your problems. You can also rate your sleep with the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. This will help show how your sleep is affecting your daily life. The doctor will need to know your complete medical history. Be sure to inform him or her of any past or present drug and medication use. Also tell the doctor if you or a relative have ever had a sleep disorder. 

A sleep medicine specialist will try to determine if there is something else that is causing your sleep terrors or making the symptoms worse, such as:
  • Another sleep disorder
  • A medical condition
  • Medication use
  • A mental health disorder
  • Substance abuse
The sleep physician may want to examine your sleep using an in-lab sleep study. Also known as a polysomnogram, a sleep study charts your brain waves, heart beat and breathing as you sleep. It also looks at how your arms and legs move and records your behavior during sleep on video. This will help show if you get out of bed and do anything unusual during your sleep study.


For children, it tends to go away on its own as they enter the teen years. 

Sleep terrors can occur when sleep is fragmented by other sleeping problems. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common medical problem that can lead to frequent arousals from sleep. This may increase the risk of parasomnias such as sleep terrors. Symptoms of OSA include snoring, waking up gasping for air, and daytime sleepiness. Treatment of OSA may improve sleep terrors.