Causes & Treatment of Night Terrors (Pavor Nocturnus)

Causes of Night Terrors (Sleep Terror)

Night terrors are a sleep disorder categorized as parasomnia, affecting non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. There are no definitive causes of a night terror although some contributing factors may be responsible for night terrors.

  • Teething in children (infants, babies, toddlers)
  • Fevers
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Abuse, trauma or stress (physical, emotional, verbal or sexual)

  • Overexertion and extreme fatigue
  • Prolonged sleeplessness, persistent insomnia or sleep deprivation.
  • Drugs / medication acting on the central nervous system (CNS) like benzodiazepines and barbituates.
  • Use of narcotic drugs and alcohol abuse. Drug or alcohol withdrawal may also be a cause of night terrors.
  • Family history may be a predisposing factor.

Treatment & Management of Night Terrors (Sleep Terror)

There is no clearly established therapeutic protocol for the treatment of night children. Treatment should be targeted at possible causes and contributing factors.

  • Establishing a proper sleep routine may be useful especially in children experiencing night terrors.
  • Avoid factors that may disturb sleep especially in the initial stages of sleep.
  • Certain classes of antidepressants may provide temporary relief for night terrors. Antidepressants for the treatment of night terrors should be prescribed by a medical doctor after careful assessment and investigation of the condition.
  • Sleeping tablets‘ used for the treatment of insomnia should be avoided as they can aggravate the condition.
  • Night terrors in children usually resolves spontaneously with age and should be conservatively managed rather than treated.

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  • masbaholo

    I have a 1yr old who has poor sleeping patters. After numerous consultations I was told that she has night terrors. I’d like soe ideas on how to manage this problem as I’m concereed about her persistent sleep deprivation.

  • Dr. Chris

    Hi Mashabo

    Often night terrors are linked to psychological trauma related to abuse or even some upset within the household – children are able to detect this. This should first be investigated due to the high incidence of abuse these days. If there is no traumatic cause then other physical causes should be investigate like gastrointestinal conditions, difficulty breathing and so on which manifests as night terrors. Try not to give your child too much of sugar and stimulants and don’t let your child eat about 2 hours before bedtime. Either way, speak to your pediatrician about these night terrors. Sometimes there is no known cause and the night terrors will pass as the child gets older.