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Sleep Terrors Medication

  • Author: Eve G Spratt, MD, MSc; Chief Editor: Caroly Pataki, MD  more...
Updated: Jul 06, 2016

Medication Summary

Medications rarely are indicated for sleep terrors and usually provide no long-term help to patients. They should be prescribed only for severe symptoms that affect waking behavior (eg, school performance and peer or family relations) and only after behavioral interventions have failed. Pharmacologic therapy should be administered only as a temporary measure.


Tricyclic Antidepressants

Class Summary

Tricyclic antidepressants decrease deep delta sleep and arousal between sleep stages.

Imipramine (Tofranil, Tofranil-PM)


In limited studies, imipramine has stopped the disorder when administered at bedtime for 8 weeks.



Amitriptyline has been effective in the treatment of REM sleep disorder behaviors.



Class Summary

Some studies suggest that long-term management with low dose clonazepam is effective for adults with severe sleep terrors involving violence or self-injurious behaviors.[25, 26]

Clonazepam (Klonopin)


Long-acting benzodiazepine that increases the presynaptic GABA inhibition and reduces the monosynaptic and polysynaptic reflexes. It has been used off-label for REM and nonREM sleep behavior disorders.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Eve G Spratt, MD, MSc Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry, Division of Developmental Pediatrics, Medical University of South Carolina; Director, Pediatric Consultation Liaison Psychiatry, Medical University of South Carolina Children's Hospital at Charleston

Eve G Spratt, MD, MSc is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Katherine Harris, MD Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine

Katherine Harris, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Caroly Pataki, MD Health Sciences Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine

Caroly Pataki, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, New York Academy of Sciences, Physicians for Social Responsibility

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Martha Karlstad, MD Chief Resident, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Mark Anderson, MD Lt Col, United States Air Force, 75th Medical Squadron

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Kevin P Connelly, DO Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Division of General Pediatrics and Emergency Care, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine; Medical Director, Paws for Health Pet Visitation Program of the Richmond SPCA; Pediatric Emergency Physician, Emergency Consultants Inc, Chippenham Medical Center

Kevin P Connelly, DO is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Osteopathic Pediatricians, and American Osteopathic Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chet Johnson, MD Professor and Chair of Pediatrics, Associate Director, Developmental Pediatrician, Center for Child Health and Development, Shiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies, University of Kansas School of Medicine; LEND Director, University of Kansas Medical Center

Chet Johnson, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose

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