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Sleeping Disorders: Adult Night Terrors

sleep disorders - sleeping disorders

Nightmares and sleep terrors

I suffered from a sleep disorder that was very disturbing. A few years ago, I began having frequent bouts with nightmares. And these weren’t just bad dreams or even your garden variety nightmares, either. These were starkly detailed and truly terrifying dreams. I actually woke up screaming a couple of times. My heart would be racing and it would be difficult to catch my breath. I would also often be drenched in sweat. I usually couldn’t remember the nightmare until the next day or so, if I remembered it at all. These sleep terrors were really affecting my daily routine. I began to be afraid to go to sleep because I so feared the night terrors. And one I did drift off to sleep, I would often be haunted by the terrible dreams. I found out that sleep disorders can make your daily life pretty miserable. I was always tired and sleepy during my bout with night terrors, and sometimes the nightmares and their ghastly images remained in my mind for several days.

Sleep terror disorder

I went to see my primary care physician, and she told me I was most likely suffering from something called sleep terror disorder. I had most of the symptoms except for the detailed nightmares: rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, panic, perspiration, and awaking suddenly. Most people suffering from sleep terror disorder rarely recall details of their nightmares, but mine were often terrifyingly clear. Still, because of my other symptoms, my doctor felt that I was experiencing adult night terrors, or sleep terror disorder.

What causes adult night terrors

Sleeping disorders like sleep terrors are more common in children than they are in adults, according to the good doctor. I asked her what causes nightmares and sleep terrors. She said it could be a number of factors. With adults, unusual mental or emotional stress is often the cause of these adult night terrors. At the time, I wasn’t under any extraordinary stress, however. Another cause of adult night terrors, sleep terror disorder, and other sleeping disorders is not getting enough sleep. When grownups are sleep deprived, they’re more likely to have sleep terrors.

One of my adult night terrors

The worst of my adult night terrors remains indelibly printed on my brain. I dreamed I was in England during the middle ages, and it was market day. There had been a terrible drought that had caused the crops to fail, and most of the peasants were starving.

As I was walking through the market, I noticed that people were gathered around something, so I went over to take a look. There was a huge metal grill, about six-by-ten feet. A fire had been built underneath it, and a man dressed in rags was about to cook some meat on the grill. People were anxious to get some of the food.

Beside the grill was a huge pile of meat covered by a tarp of some sort, and when the man threw the tarp back, I saw what was underneath: human corpses. They were going to cook the bodies and eat them! I turned to run, and blocking my path was a toothless man with a beard who was skinning dogs to go on the grill. He grinned at me as he threw one of the canine corpses on the fire. This was so real to me that I still remember seeing the dog’s blood vessels under the skin and the way its teeth looked.

That must be when I woke up. My heart was pounding like a bass drum, and I thought for sure I would have a heart attack. I couldn’t go back to sleep after that, so I stayed up all night watching sitcoms on TV to take my mind off the night terror.

What caused my sleep terror disorder

My doctor and I discovered what was causing my sleep terror disorder. It was a medication I was taking – an SSRI. I was taking it right before I went to bed every night. The doc said as my body got used to the drug, the sleep terrors would probably abate. She said I might also be able to stop nightmares by taking the medication earlier in the day. It was more convenient for me to take pills at night when I wasn’t so rushed, but if changing my routine would stop nightmares, I was willing to re-arrange my daily schedule. Living with a sleep disorder was ruining my life.

I started taking the SSRI in the morning, before I went to work, and the sleep terrors stopped. I haven’t had any sleep terrors or even a really scary nightmare in over two years, so I guess I no longer suffer from sleep terror disorder. Thank goodness!

An update: I was switched from the SSRI I had been taking to an SSNRI, Cymbalta. Since I had nerve pain and nerve damage, my doctor thought this drug would kill two proverbial birds with one proverbial stone. Of course, I was concerned that a new drug would give new life to the old problem of sleep disorders. It didn't thankk goodness. I did have some very graphic dreams for a couple of weeks, but they couldn't really be classified as night terrors, or even nightmares. I have noticed, however, if I ever miss a dose of my Cymbalta, I'll have a nightmare, but not exactly a night terror.

Treating sleep terror disorder and adult night terrors

If you suffer from frequent terrifying nightmares, sleep terror disorder, or from other sleeping disorders, see your doctor. He may prescribe something like Valium to help you sleep soundly. Some doctors also suggest taking Benadryl, an over-the-counter antihistamine, to stop nightmares and these types of sleeping disorders.

Also, since stress seems to be a major cause of sleep terror disorder, you should take steps to reduce stress. This might include meditation, yoga, prayer, and other relaxation techniques. Moderate exercise is another way to reduce stress and anxiety.

If the drugs don’t help, your doctor might suggest that you see a psychotherapist or other counselor to help discover the root of your sleeping disorder. By all means, get the help you need. There's really no reason to be miserable and live with a sleep disorder. Sometimes sleep disorders will go away on their own, but why suffer needlessly? I found out quickly that the human body needs to sleep!

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Sleep disorders:

Night terrors:

Sleep terrors and nightmares are forms of sleep disorders.

Sleep terrors and nightmares are forms of sleep disorders.


Lori Colbo from United States on December 09, 2019:

That dream you described is horrible. You poor thing. I am glad you found out the cause. I have been plagued with PTSD nightmares off and on for years. They put me on a drug called Prazosin, which is a poor blood pressure medicine but they discovered it blocks adrenaline during nightmares and should stop them. It has worked well for me.

I do remember a time when I was under tremendous stress that I had a different kind of nightmare. I kept dreaming that I was in a big van. People in the van were paramedics. I was in the back with them but we were just driving. Suddenly my entire back split wide open and I began to hemorrhage. Chaos ensued as one paramedic was trying to hold my back together yelling orders, and there was general commotion and freaking out. Each time I had the dream it became worse and worse. The last time I had it my life drained out of me. I am fortunate that the reoccurrence of that dream only lasted for a brief time but it was utterly terrifying.

trreddy5432 on May 27, 2013: Disorders– Obstacles For Good Night Sleep

Gill Chapman on August 22, 2012:

Its true that stress and anxiety cause night terrors ,,, I never had them in my life before ,, until our only child hanged himself in January 2012 ,,, since then I keep getting recurrent night terrors, seeing people and animals in our bedroom ,, keep waking up screaming, heart pounding, cant breathe ,,,, my Doctor told me its stress and upset from our sons Suicide ,,,, the brain is a very complex thing ,,,,

Ryan on April 16, 2012:

Its 2am and I just woke from another night terror. I know what is causing them. I am taking a memory/cognitive pill in conjunction with omega 3 daily. Im taking the memory pill because I am currently in school taking taking 5 classes and finals is four weeks away and just trying to help out the old memory with those chemistry formulas, rules and laws. This night terror was different from my last. All equally terrifying. This one I was in NYC at my uncles house with my friends and family. I fell asleep in my dream and became possessed (or fighting possesion) from....something. I remember screaming a blood curdling scream fighting to open my eyes (in my dream). With my scream my mouth widened farther than ever before. I tried telling everyone (once i awoke in my dream) that I had a night terror and everyone shunned me. Then cats (im not a cat guy) started following me around the house, hissing at me constantly like I was invading their home. Their teeth were razor sharp though. Not cat teeth, that's for certain. They started attacking me. Then I went outside at some point after escaping the cats and another possession suspended me into the air. I tried to scream but so too terrified to. I was suspended hundreds of feet above the house in mid air by a possession. I was so helpless. I felt I was going to die. Now Im actually awake. Thank God. I took those pills before I went to bed.....that was dumb. That just sounds like a bad idea. Especially when Ive practically eaten nothing all day and took those pills at night. I am putting those pills on the shelf and not touching again. I cant handle this night terror crap. Im a 25 year old man in the army, in school and dont get much sleep as it is.

Steven on March 20, 2012:

Its 4 in the morning where i am. i just did some research to see if i wasn't the only one, the last few days i have had horrible dreams relating to the line of work im training for (Military) specifically im hoping to get into the SAS. but last night i had a dream so terrifying, that tonight i was laying in bed and my body was rejecting the idea of sleep. i couldn't sleep i nearly started crying over how scared i was to sleep. I feel like no matter how hard i try i cant get those images out of my head. I was going to tell my father about it but im not sure how to say to him " oh yer dad im 17 and im too scared to fall asleep at night"

carla260 on March 01, 2012:

I highly doubt anyones.nightmares can compare to.mine :(

jenny on February 15, 2012:

hi have a Sleeping Disorder i dont like i have had for a every long time i will fall a sleep off and on durng the day some time i fall for 15 mins there are days i fall a sleep a half hour oh most days my qestion is what can do is there pills out there that i can take ihope i can a pill take for it to stop

Norman Winkfield from Chicago, Illinois on January 18, 2012:

scary I think i would enjoy a dream such as you had at lease once a year. My dreams are so romantic,they are getting boring,I,m trying to get 2 people to together, or in my case I'm falling in love and the thrill is so overwhelming I becomes able to fly. I am a massage therapist and writer and have heard a lot of complaints of body maladies.But yours was the worse! however I enjoyed reading it. Thanks.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 28, 2011:

Thought, I'll check out your hub about night terrors!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 28, 2011:

Heather, I once had a nightmare about drowning! I woke up gasping for breath.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 28, 2011:

Leann, glad you found some help for your night terrors. They're horrible!

thoughthole from Utah on September 25, 2011:

Great article, vote up. Night Terrors truly are terryfying, I am glad you found the cause. If you are up to it you may want to check out my hub; Night Terrors Disturbing Nightly Episodes of a New Parent.

shane on September 22, 2011:

use 2 get them as a child

heather on September 17, 2011:

i have night terrors some times but a couple of weeks ago i thought some one laid next to me so i woke up no one was there then i went back to sleep and i am so afraid of drowning in a pool well that's what happened in my dream i woke up and could not breath and my heart was racing.

leann2800 on May 31, 2011:

I used to have night terrors. Latley, I suffer from sleep paralysis but any nightmares I have leave me waking up slowly and not being able to move. When Benadryl doesn't help, Xanax does. Both make it hard for me to wake up.But its better than having nightmares.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 01, 2011:

Eden, sorry about your frequent night terrors. Do you have any idea what might be causing them?

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 01, 2011:

Janis, thanks for the tip! Night terrors can really be unsettling.

Eden on February 27, 2011:

Night terrors hmmm, I have them about once every 4 weeks, I wake the whole house screeming. Addleast my girlfriend knows the signs and she will wake me up before it gets worse. I never used to have them but the last 4-5 years it seems to be a common re occurence. :-< Oh the bad dreams I have had. I generally say I dont remember just because they are too graphic.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 21, 2011:

Ygirl, that sounds awful!

gajanis from Pakistan on February 20, 2011:

Very informative hub.....besides other remedies, I would also suggest treatment through "Reiki", as it produces very good results in such cases.Thanks.

yazoogal43 from Malden on February 17, 2011:


Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 04, 2011:

Amy, it doesn't work for everyone, but it's worth a try!

Amy DeMarco from Chicago on February 03, 2011:

I suffer from night terrors. I had no idea that benedryl may help. I'll have to try that. Thanks for the great article!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on December 17, 2010:

Writer, adult night terrors really are terrible!

writer83 from Cyber Space on December 16, 2010:

Gosh it sounds awful.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 04, 2010:

Thanks for the tips! Your dream sounds terrifying!

SuperiorInteriors from San Diego, California on September 30, 2010:

I've had some very memorable night terrors that have made it impossible to go back to sleep after waking, too. And like you, I ended up watching sitcoms and cartoons all night :P

I've heard that meditation can help, and so can massages. Routine changes are sometimes helpful too, especially if you exercise before going to bed (I used to do this, and my doctor supposed that perhaps the adrenaline buildup byproduct of exercise could cause more visceral and "realistic" dreams). I also bought a memory foam mattress, on the recommendation of a friend, and I think it helped. Something about being coddled in soft foam is really nice. Even if the memory foam isn't responsible for mitigating my night terrors, at least it's really comfortable! :)

I had a night terror once where I "thought" I was awake, but I was totally paralyzed (this is common in night terrors, apparently). There was a dark, wispy, human-like shadow hovering over me, face to face, and then it opened its eyes and started shrieking at me. It was vaguely feminine, but very dark, and needless to say, I woke up gasping for air and sweating uncontrollably. I will never forget that one.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 27, 2010:

Funny, Alysha!

alysha on August 26, 2010:

wow! and ithought i had bad dreamns!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 01, 2010:

OMG, Chaoco - it must be terrible living with that! I can't imagine! I hope something is developed to help you and others who suffer from this!

chaoco on May 30, 2010:

This disease can become persistent with chronic schizophrenia and therefore debilitating.

Ambien does a wonderful job of stopping these sleep panic attacks also known as sleep terror disorder, but only work for about four or five hours during a night. I have schizophrenia with auditory and visual hallucinations and the characters that live unilateral to me inside of my head whom cause these hallucinations also cause my sleep terror disorder. Also, I leave the television on while asleep and it changes the dreams I have to follow what is on the tv, but the insane dreams I do have if I run out of ambien are very stong and annoying they cause me to wake up or remain in a constant dream that lasts all night and I do not actually get any sleep unless I take the full doesgae of ten mg Ambien, if I take this medication and stay awake as the neurotransmitters in my brain are so active sleeping pills only make me slightly tired for about thirty minutes, if I do stay awake the voices in my head fall asleep themselves and only respond to things that I say to them ad do not create so many hallucinations and do not respond as often, but they are still slightly awake and cause persistent sexual arousal disorder. I am allergic to seroquel and it causes me to remain awake and feel as though I am on fire and am also freezing and also cause serious neurological problems drive me more insane than the schizophrenia does all day. If they could develop a hypnotic sedative I can take during the day that does not cause outward visual hallcuinations such as the wood grain on a wall becoming people and they make out and they rowboat and do all sorts of crazy crap that would be the greatest medicine I have ever taken, as the Ambien is effective for my schizophrenia up to like seventy five percent, rather than the highest does of Lithium only like ten to twenty percent effective then you could get rid of the words, schizophrenia medication is effective in twentyfive percent of cases and change it to seventy five percent effective, also hypertension drugs stop a lot of postural hypertension and can lessen any anger you will have towards the schizophrenia (skitzophrenia) bacteria, outdated dna, brain damage, drug use, multiple personalities (meeps), child trauma protector personalities (now jackasses), disassociative amneisa causing, or whatever else they will say schizophrenia is caused by problems. PLEASE DEVELOP A HYPNOTIC SEDATIVE I CAN TAKE DURING THE DAY TIME THAT DOES NOT CAUSE HALLUCINATIONS AND MAKES THE SCHIZOPHRENIA FALL ASLEEP SCIENTISTS WHO WILL READ THIS YEARS FROM NOW.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on April 05, 2010:

Good idea, Andy - that would probably be a lot safer for the waker! Thanks for reading and commenting!

Andy Johnston on April 05, 2010:

Sleep terrors are scary. Anyone who has ever been around someone while they're having a sleep terror knows what I'm talking about. There are mixed theories on when you should wake someone up from a sleep terror. If you don't want to be responsible for waking them up, just have your alarm clock do it.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on February 19, 2010:

Thanks, Greenheart. I thought about the past life thing...

Greenheart from Cambridge on February 18, 2010:

Wowee Habee.

That was some night-mare!

I am glad you are free of it.

I was thinking it might be a past life,but unlikely


I have got a mild version of sleep apnea and some restlesness.

Maybe not a past life but who knows!

If you like,i would be grateful if you would have a look at one of my sites.

Thanks and have a good w/e.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on January 24, 2010:

Hi, Lovely. A giant spider - OMG! My husband would totally freak!

I found your hub about your hubber of the week. Thanks sooooo much!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on January 24, 2010:

Funny, Bpop! They're probably not funny at the time, though.

Renee S from Virginia on January 24, 2010:

I too have had night terrors when I was under stress. I dreamed I saw an eight foot terrantula on my closet door. When I woke up screaming, I could still see it for a few seconds before it disappeared. Great Hub.

breakfastpop on January 24, 2010:

Fascinating hub, habee. Sorry you had to suffer like that. My dreams are sometimes like Grade B movies, replete with car chases!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on January 24, 2010:

Laurel, it probably was due to stress. Glad your son outgrew the night terrors!

Laurel Rogers from Bishop, Ca on January 23, 2010:

You poor thing! That was a very detailed doozie of a night terror! Jeeze, habee, sometimes I think you read my mind; just last night I had the first night terror I've had in years. No kidding. But I am fairly sure that mine was directly related to stress that's been in my life recently.

My son had these as an infant, and I could not wake him-I think the whole affair frightened me more than it did him, in the end!

Anyhoo, fabulous hub, girl, once again!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on January 23, 2010:

Lol, Ethel! I'm not positive it was England in the dream, but I think it was. Maybe I had been reading too much Jonathan Swift!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on January 23, 2010:

Hi, HH. Yeah, I think that was the worst dream I'm ever had!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on January 23, 2010:

Charlie!!!! IT's soooooo good to hear from you! I've been worried sick!!

An SSRI is an antidepressant. I was taking it for panic attacks.

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on January 23, 2010:

Hey so you think we Brits are cannibals lol.

Such nightmares are horrific. Poor you. Good advice about tackling them. Thanks

Hello, hello, from London, UK on January 23, 2010:

You poor thing. That was a nightmare. Glad you are alright.

ralwus on January 23, 2010:

Well that was some nightmare you had. Glad you have ended that. I don't know what SSRI is. I never really had that many nightmares in my life. Last night I dreamed of an electric snowball, it was huge and kind of blue. Must have been my defibrillator going off in my sleep. LOL

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