A night terror is a sleep disturbance in which a person enters a state of extreme fear and agitation during deep sleep. The experience appears similar to a nightmare but is much more intense and disturbing. A person having a night terror may appear to be fully awake, as many sufferers sit upright and open their eyes, but they are often confused and unable to communicate or recognize loved ones.

While most dreams and nightmares occur during the stage of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM), night terrors occur during deep non-REM sleep. There is no dreaming in a night terror, but instead, the experience is caused by an over-arousal of the central nervous system (CNS) as the body transitions from one state of sleep to another. Night terrors occur most often in children between the ages of 4 and 12 (1%-6% prevalence), although they can occur in adults as well (1%).

Example: Michael’s parents tried their best to comfort him during his night terror, but he was inconsolable for 20 minutes until he fell back into a deep sleep.