Diseases & Conditions


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Night terrors


A relatively common sleep problem that occurs primarily in young children between the ages of three and five years. Two percent to 3 percent of all children will experience episodes of night terrors, but by the time they reach school age, most have outgrown these nighttime events. Although it may be frightening to watch, night terrors are not unusual nor dangerous to a child. As the brain matures and a child’s sleep pattern matures, the terrors go away. Night Terrors vs. Nightmares A night terror is different from a NIGHTMARE, which occurs during the dream phase of sleep (REM sleep). A nightmare frightens a child, who usually wakes up with a vivid memory of a long scary dream. Night terrors, on the other hand, occur during a phase of deep non-REM sleep, usually an hour or two after the child goes to bed. During a night terror, which may last anywhere from a few minutes up to an hour, the child is still asleep, although her eyes may be open. When she does wake up, she will have absolutely no recollection of the episode other than a sense of fear. Cause Several factors may contribute to a child’s night terrors. They often seem to run in families and may be triggered by fatigue and psychological stress. Treatment It is important that a child prone to night terrors get plenty of rest and minimize stress whenever possible. Because children usually have night terrors at the same time each night (usually within the first few hours after falling asleep) parents can try waking a child about 30 minutes before the night terror usually happens. After about five minutes, the child can be allowed to fall back to sleep. Because a child may get out of bed and run around, parents should gently restrain a child experiencing night terrors. Once a night terror has started, the child should not be shouted at or shaken awake, as these methods will just worsen the terror.