Nightmares have come and gone since childhood, being more prevalent during the early years and less common in adults. Night terrors in the adult age generally spring from some underlying problem or even a health concern.

As a child, nightmares were a common experience. They came from simple experiences most of the time like scary movies or worries. In some cases, nightmares come from abuse, neglect, or other traumatic experiences, but this is not the norm.

Unlike nightmares, night terrors caused negative feelings but didn’t wake the dreamer. Night terrors in adults came from some of the same things but operated much differently. Unfortunately, adult terrors were the result of a more serious situation or condition.

The source of night terrors in adults

Adults can have night terrors, or parasomnia, lasting from a few seconds to minutes. They also occur during the first part of sleep, unlike nightmares which occur in deeper REM rest. Unbeknowest to the sleeper, the night terror can cause flailing of the limbs, the opening of the eyes and sitting up in bed. Most of these episodes aren’t remembered in the morning either.

Here are a few things that cause night terrors in adults:


Unusual bouts of stress or anxiety can trigger a night terror. Because stress affects the nerves, which relates to the functions of the brain, it’s easy to see a connection that would cause this issue. Since stress includes overthinking, this shows how night terrors can evolve from an overactive mind. If you reduce stress, then you can reduce the occurrence of the night terrors.

Sleep deprivation

Just yesterday I was told that I probably have sleep apnea. This condition not only affects the breathing and how much rest you get, but it also affects how often you dream and the severity.

It’s safe to say that sleep deprivation from conditions such as this can cause an overworking brain to create all sorts of night terror scenarios. The lack of sleep will leave your body fatigued but will infuse your brain with energy to keep you from relaxation.


When a fever strikes, the temperature can rise drastically, and at a fast rate. Once the body temperature reaches a certain level, you will begin to hallucinate or have strange thought patterns. Fevers can easily lead to night terrors when temperatures run high during the night. Sometimes it’s the first indication of an elevated temp.

Underlying problems

Explaining the causes of night terrors doesn’t seem to provide enough comfort. In fact, you must understand the medical or mental causes of these severe sleep disturbances.


Post-traumatic stress disorder can, in time, cause night terrors. Considering something severe has occurred in the adult’s history, it’s no surprise that these feelings can manifest in sleep as well. Also, when post-traumatic stress is involved during the day, this also translates into negative emotion while sleeping, just as ordinary stress can do the same thing.

Substance abuse

As you know, alcohol or drug abuse changes the way you think. It gradually and permanently alters the brain. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how night terrors can affect adults due to these substances. Alcohol is a depressant, and in conjunction with clinical depression, a regular pattern of sleep disturbances can occur.

Mental illnesses

Many people who suffer from mental disorders like depression and bipolar disorder will experience night terrors at some point in their life. With bipolar disorder, the manic stage causes a severely heightened level of brain activity. This alone can cause night terrors.

Even those who suffer from an anxiety disorder can experience this. One thing these disorders have in common is malfunctioning of the brain. Whether the brain is overactive or subdued by negative thought, night terrors can be born.

Sleep and breathing disorders

Breathing and sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or insomnia can be the root of night terrors. As I mentioned before, sleep apnea causes the brain to be overactive to keep breathing regulated. This overactivity contributes to dreaming and nightmares…also night terrors.

Insomnia works in much the same way except that the brain runs at normal speed but just won’t slow down for sleep. Even after sleep, the brain may still not completely enter deep rest, thus feeding night terrors.


Let’s not forget the drastic side effects of some medications. Many conditions require a high dosage of medications or supplements which can change the way you think and operate. This change can trigger night terrors in some people.

Also, changing medications can cause emotions that resemble withdrawal symptoms, and these symptoms can continue over into sleeping hours.

Night terrors: How can you help?

Since night terrors are closely related to sleepwalking episodes, it’s best to remove all objects that can be hurtful from around the sleeping area. It’s also recommended to sleep with the bedroom door locked to prevent sleepwalking and a potential night terror combination. This could be dangerous otherwise.

Cognitive behavior therapy, hypnosis, and counseling can also be of some help to those who suffer from this problem. Before taking any additional medications, please talk to a doctor first.

Just remember, treating night terrors is just as important as treating any other illness, and it must be taken seriously. I hope this helped you pinpoint and recognize your own personal issue. Maybe you can find help with your sleep disturbances. I’m still working on mine.

Good luck!



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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Devi

    I have night terrors when I am low on Magnesium. I take some MG an no more night terrors.

    1. Sherrie

      Good thinking, Devi. I have heard that magnesium helps you relax as it prevents any muscle tightening and cramping during sleep.

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