Pavor Nocturnus - Night Terror

) consists in the partial awakening from deep sleep, in the throes of a state of intense agitation. This phenomenon is part of the parasomnia (non-pathological disturbances of sleep) and is not connected to trauma or emotional or relational problems. Pavor nocturnus is a fairly common manifestation in preschool children. The disorder occurs with variable, irregular and unpredictable frequency.
During an episode of Pavor nocturnus, the child:

  • He can get out of bed, crying and screaming excessively;
  • His eyes are often wide open, but he doesn't seem to see;
  • He does not respond either to the call or to the voice of his parents;
  • He is inconsolable.

Often, this phenomenon fades with growth. In the meantime, it is important to know what not to do during a pavor nocturnus episode: do not pick up the baby and try to wake him; it will be sufficient to check that he is not injured by moving in his sleep and to reassure him, using a calm and peaceful tone of voice.

and hypnagogic hallucinations. The disorder occurs during deep non-REM sleep, during which awareness is lacking (unlike nightmares that occur in REM sleep).


Pavor nocturnus can be very striking on the surface: the child (not contactable, because he is not aware: he is sleeping in deep non-REM sleep) seems in terror and, at the same time, can present symptoms such as excessive sweating, muscle stiffness and tachycardia.
The episode lasts from a few minutes to half an hour; once finished, the baby goes back to sleep, as if nothing had happened. In any case, Pavor nocturnus has no underlying pathological cause (neurological, psychological, affective or relational).

and conditions that disturb sleep, such as:

  • Sound or light stimulations during rest;
  • Fever;
  • Bladder distension (full bladder)
  • Adenoid hypertrophy;
  • Sleep apnea;
  • Alterations of the hydro-saline balance;
  • Otitis media;
  • Asthma;
  • Gastroesophageal reflux;
  • Sleep deprivation.

In any case, pavor nocturnus is not an expression of neurological, affective or relational disorders and it is not a panic attack. This manifestation is the result of an "activation of the limbic system (which, among other things, manages emotions) and is not realized as a consequence of lived experiences.


  • Muscle stiffness;
  • Tachypnea (rapid breathing);
  • Pallor or, conversely, redness of the face;
  • Excessive sweating
  • These manifestations depend on a strong activation of the autonomic nervous system (not caused by emotional experiences). Typically, the baby goes back to sleep after a few minutes, as if nothing had happened; unlike nightmares, those who experience pavor nocturnus in the morning do not remember these episodes, leaving a partial or total "amnesia".

    , he quickly identifies the disorder.
    Pavor nocturnus falls into the group of parasomnia, that is, non-pathological disturbances of sleep, such as sleepwalking and hypnagogic hallucinations. We reiterate that this manifestation has no pathological significance (it is not associated with any type of physical or mental illness).
    The instrumental examination (polysomnography) is indicated in the case in which a differential diagnosis is necessary with respect to episodes of an epileptic nature during sleep, or when the simultaneous presence of respiratory diseases is suspected.

    , when strictly necessary, it is possible to resort to drug therapy based on anxiolytics or antidepressants, to reduce the incidence of attacks and stabilize sleep.

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