Strictly defined, it is uncommon for adults to experience sleep terrors. Sleep terrors, or night terrors, are one of the parasomnias that typically affect young children. There is often an emotional or behavioral component that may include anxiety, panic, gasping, moaning, or screaming while the child remains asleep. These events occur during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) or slow-wave sleep during the first half of the night. There are other behaviors like sleepwalking that occur in adults and are categorized as NREM parasomnias without being called sleep terrors.
In addition, older adults may experience behaviors while asleep during REM. An individual with REM sleep behavior disorder may act out his or her dreams. This syndrome is characterized by vivid dreams without the usual loss of muscle tone. This allows the person to perform various activities -- including walking, punching, kicking, or any number of behaviors -- while remaining asleep. Occasionally this may lead to injury to the person afflicted or to others in close proximity. If awakened, the person recalls vivid dream content associated with the action. It typically affects men over the age of 50.
In each of these disorders, it is possible that the exact details of the action are not fully understood or remembered the next morning, and the person experiencing it may not initially be fully conscious during the episode. For those who are afflicted, it may be necessary to undergo a sleep study. This study may include monitoring to evaluate for increased muscle tone during dream sleep or to look for seizures. The good news is that there are effective treatments available for REM sleep behavior disorder, including drugs called Klonopin (clonazepam) and melatonin.