Night Terrors

Last updated: May 31, 2019

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A night terror is a partial waking from sleep. Someone experiencing night terrors usually wakes up screaming, kicking, thrashing, or mumbling. There are also some instances of night terrors that end with the person sleepwalking. Night terrors are harmless. An episode often lasts from a few seconds to a few minutes. Some episodes last longer, however. They often end in a deep sleep.

Night terrors affect almost 40% of children. Children often outgrow night terrors when they reach their teenage years. A small percentage of adults also experience night terrors.

Although night terrors are harmless they can result in a child not getting enough sleep. It can also pose a safety risk if episodes end up in sleepwalking.

What are the symptoms of night terrors?

Night terrors are different from nightmares. Someone who experiences nightmares wakes up from the dream and remembers what he or she is dreaming about. They can recall details of the nightmare. A child experiencing night terrors remain asleep.

Symptoms of a night terror may include:

  • An episode that begins with a frightening scream
  • Sitting up in bed and appearing frightened
  • Staring wide-eyed in an empty space
  • Heavy breathing
  • Racing pulse
  • Sweating heavily
  • Kicking and thrashing in bed
  • What causes night terrors?
  • There are several factors that may cause night terrors. These include:
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep deprivation
  • High fever
  • Sleep disruption

How do you help a child experiencing night terrors?

  • Try to get your child to return to normal sleep. Soothing comments may help calm the child. If it seems to calm down the child, hold him or her. Holding the child may help him or her feel secure. Shaking or shouting at a child experiencing night terrors may lead to a child becoming more upset.
  • Keep your child safe. Night terrors may lead to sleepwalking. It is important to ensure that the child doesn’t injure himself while sleepwalking. An episode of night terror can also cause a child to fall of of their bed, run into a wall, or fall down a stairway. It is important to be there to prevent the child from injuring himself. Gently guide the child back to bed.
  • If the child has a babysitter or caregiver, brief them about what to do during an episode. Ensure that the caregiver or babysitter knows what a night terror is to prevent panic.
  • Try to prevent an episode. An episode of a night terror is more likely if the child becomes too tired. Ensure that the child gets enough rest after a tiresome day. Ensure that the child goes to bed at the scheduled bedtime. The scheduled bedtime should be early enough to ensure that he or she gets enough sleep during the night.

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