Night terrors aren’t typically treated, especially if they happen infrequently, Shah says.
However, if they’re occurring on a regular basis, or they’re disruptive or dangerous to you or your family members, treatment options are available.
“Night terrors can disrupt family members’ sleep quite a bit, so there are things you can do at home to make sure children and adults have age-appropriate treatment options,” Shah says.
Treatment may include these options:
Thinking About Safety First As a preemptive measure, make sure the bedroom is a safe space for you and anyone sleeping close to you, Roehrs says. In children, this may mean avoiding bunk beds or installing a bedrail to prevent falls. For adults, it could mean blocking doorways or stairways with a gate, and moving sharp or fragile objects away from the bed.
Treating Any Underlying Conditions If your sleep terrors are tied to an underlying medical condition or another sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea, treatment for these problems can eliminate them. “Although it’s not common, you always want to make sure [that night terrors] are not a feature of brain problems,” Shah says.
Improving Your Sleep Hygiene Shah recommends creating an environment that will help you fall asleep and stay asleep, including removing simple triggers like loud noises or bright lights in the bedroom. Pay attention to whether you’re having caffeine too late in the afternoon or alcohol before bedtime. Aim for getting eight hours of sleep every night too — Roehrs notes that sleep deprivation can trigger an episode of night terrors. “Keep a sleep diary and log what you’re doing in the day before an episode to look for patterns,” he suggests.
Managing Daytime Stress If you’re grappling with stress or anxiety, your doctor may suggest therapy or counseling to address what’s causing it.
Practicing Anticipatory Awakening While you should not try to wake someone up while they’re having an episode, you can note what time of night one usually begins, and try to wake them up about 15 minutes before that. They can stay awake for a few minutes, then go back to sleep. You can also try waking them up about 45 minutes after an episode, asking them a few questions, and then having them return to sleep, Breus says.
Taking Medication Medication is rarely used to treat sleep terrors in children and adults. However, if they’re used, certain sedatives or antidepressants can be effective. “It’s not a common practice and saved for highly frequent episodes — you want to do it under medical supervision,” Shah says.
Complications of Night Terrors
According to the Mayo Clinic, sleep terrors can cause complications:
- Disturbed sleep for you and your loved ones
- Excessive sleepiness during the day, which can cause problems at school or work
- Embarrassment and stress
- Injury to yourself or others