Sleep Education

American Academy of Sleep Medicine 

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Sleep Terrors - Symptoms & Risk Factors


During a sleep terror episode, a person might:
  • Sit up in bed
  • Scream or shout 
  • Perform dangerous actions
  • Be hard to awaken
  • Be confused when awoken
  • Not remember what took place

Risk Factors

It is more common in children and affects males and females equally. It may affect as many as 6.5% of all children. It tends to begin when a child is four to 12 years old. Children with sleep terrors will often talk in their sleep and sleepwalk.

In rare cases, it can begin in adulthood. Overall, only about 2.2% of adults have it. Very few people over the age of 65 have sleep terrors.

There is a strong genetic and family link. It can occur in several members of the same family.

Many adults who have sleep terrors are also likely to have a history of one of the following:
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Some depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
It is unclear how closely it may be linked to these mental disorders in adults. In children, there does not seem to be any connection between mental disorders and sleep terrors.
Episodes of sleep terrors and sleepwalking share many of the same causes. These include the following:
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Hyperthyroidism (overproduction of thyroid hormones)
  • Migraine headaches
  • Head injury
  • Encephalitis (brain swelling)
  • Stroke
  • The premenstrual period
  • Bloated stomach
  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
  • Other sleep-related disorders or events
  • Travel
  • Sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings
  • Some medications
  • Alcohol use and abuse
  • Noise or light
  • Fevers in children
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