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Nightmares and night terrors in adults

Nightmares and night terrors are usually associated with children, but sometimes they can affect adults.

Children's nightmares and night terrors

Nightmares in adults

There are many possible causes of adult nightmares. They're often linked to stress, trauma or an existing mental health condition.

They can also happen after taking certain types of medication, such as antidepressants.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Night terrors in adults

Night terrors are different from nightmares. A person who has night terrors may scream, shout and thrash around in extreme panic. They may even jump out of bed.

Their eyes will be open, but they're not fully awake.

Night terrors:

  • usually happen in the early part of the night
  • can continue for up to 15 minutes
  • can happen more than once during the night

Causes of night terrors in adults

Night terrors in adults are often linked to stress or trauma.

Sometimes a condition that affects sleep can be a trigger for night terrors.

For example:

Sleep terrors are more common in people with a family history of sleep terrors or sleepwalking.

When to see your GP

Nightmares do not usually cause any physical harm. But they can be disturbing or upsetting and stop you from getting a good night's sleep.

See your GP if you have regular nightmares that affect your sleep and day-to-day life.

If a traumatic event causes your nightmares or night terrors, your GP may recommend psychological treatment. For example, counselling.

Read more about anxiety.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 14 May 2021
Next review due: 14 May 2024