Sleep Terror Disorder

Sleeping Disorder Man


Sleep terror disorder is a type of parasomnia disorder that causes feelings of terror and dreadfulness and usually occurs within a few hours of the patient falling asleep. Technically, this stage of the sleep cycle is known as slow wave sleep (delta sleep activity). While these disorders mostly happen during the night, some patients experience it during daytime naps as well.

Sleep terror was considered as a nightmare disorder until the concept of rapid eye movement was discovered. It differs from nightmares in that a person having nightmares usually remembers all the intricate details of the nightmares and wakes up from sleep, whereas an individual that has a sleep terror attack remains asleep. These attacks usually last for a few minutes and mostly affect children. However, adults with a history of anxiety may also face these attacks. It affects only a small sample of the population and this condition is not a dangerous one. Most children outgrow this disorder by the time they grow up into adolescence. If the patient's condition doesn't improve with time then it will be necessary to seek proper treatment for it.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Scream or shout
  • Kick and thrash
  • Heavy sweating
  • Heavy breathing
  • Racing pulse
  • Difficulty awakening
  • Aggressiveness
  • Restlessness
  • Staring wide-eyed

Causes and Risk Factors

Sleep terror disorder is a parasomnia disorder mostly attributed to chemical imbalances in the brain. Anxiety, stress, biological and a lot of other environmental factors are responsible for it. Genetics is another major cause of this disorder if either of the parent's is suffering from this condition it is mostly likely for the children to develop this situation since their childhood.

Sleep deprivation is one of the most prominent reasons behind this disorder. It upsets the body’s biological clock and the patient is “detached” from their subconscious in his/her sleep, thereby exposing the patient to the risk of a sleep-terror attack.

Fatigue, stress and anxiety can also lead to chemical imbalances in the brain, especially in the hypothalamus. Being faced with anxiety and stress can cause the serotonin levels in the brain to fall sharply. This can lead to a lot of mental disorders, sleep-terror disorder being one of them.

Disturbed sleep (amidst light and noise) and fever are also potential causes behind this sleep disorder. Sometimes, underlying conditions such as head injuries, and migraines can also lead to these attacks.

Although this is not a dangerous disorder, patients are still exposed to some risks like:

  • Inability to sleep properly
  • Other parasomnias
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Distress


Most patients, especially children, are able to cope with these attacks within a few months. However, if the patient’s condition gets worse with each terror attack, they may need to receive administered treatment in a rehabilitation facility that specializes in sleep disorders.

Targeted psychotherapy and Cognitive behavior therapy help the patients cope with their condition. If these attacks are associated with an underling medical condition, that condition may need to be treated as well. As soon as the underlying medical condition will be resolved, it will be lot easier to overcome this disorder. Stress and anxiety are common underlying conditions and are treated using psychotherapy as well as by administering drugs such as anti-depressants etc. on the patients.


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