Night Terrors In Children

Sleep happens in several stages. We have dreams — including nightmares — during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage. Night terrors happen during deep non-REM sleep. A night terror is not technically a dream, but more like a sudden reaction of fear that happens during the transition from one sleep stage to another.

Night Terrors

Most parents have comforted their child after the occasional nightmare. But if your child has ever had what’s known as a night terror (or sleep terror), his or her fear was likely inconsolable, no matter what you tried.

A night terror is a sleep disruption that seems similar to a nightmare, but is far more dramatic. Though night terrors can be alarming for parents who witness them, they’re not usually cause for concern or a sign of a deeper medical issue.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Night Terrors?

During a night terror, a child might:

  • suddenly sit upright in bed
  • shout out or scream in distress
  • have faster breathing and a quicker heartbeat
  • be sweating
  • thrash around
  • act upset and scared

After a few minutes, or sometimes longer, the child simply calms down and returns to sleep.

Unlike nightmares, which kids often remember, kids won’t have any memory of a night terror the next day because they were in deep sleep when it happened — and there are no mental images to recall.

What Causes Night Terrors?

Night terrors are caused by over-arousal of the central nervous system (CNS) during sleep.

See also  Cough That Won't Go Away

Sleep happens in several stages. We have dreams — including nightmares — during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage. Night terrors happen during deep non-REM sleep. A night terror is not technically a dream, but more like a sudden reaction of fear that happens during the transition from one sleep stage to another.

Night terrors usually happen about 2 or 3 hours after a child falls asleep, when sleep moves from the deepest stage of non-REM sleep to lighter REM sleep. Usually this transition is a smooth one. But sometimes, a child becomes upset and frightened — and that fear reaction is a night terror.

Who Gets Night Terrors?

Night terrors have been noted in kids who are:

  • overtired, ill, or stressed
  • taking a new medicine
  • sleeping in a new environment or away from home
  • not getting enough sleep
  • having too much caffeine

Night terrors are relatively rare — they happen in only 3%–6% of kids, while almost every child will have a nightmare occasionally. Night terrors usually happen in kids between 4 and 12 years old, but have been reported in babies as young as 18 months. They seem to be a little more common among boys.

Some kids may inherit a tendency for night terrors — about 80% who have them have a family member who also had them or sleepwalking (a similar type of sleep disturbance).

A child might have a single night terror or several before they stop. Most of the time, night terrors simply disappear on their own as the nervous system matures.

How Can I Help My Child?

Night terrors can be very upsetting for parents, who might feel helpless when they can’t comfort their child. The best way to handle a night terror is to wait it out patiently and make sure your child doesn’t get hurt if thrashing around. Kids usually will settle down and return to sleep on their own in a few minutes.

See also  Burning Sensation In Stomach

It’s best not to try to wake kids during a night terror. This usually doesn’t work, and kids who do wake are likely to be disoriented and confused, and may take longer to settle down and go back to sleep.

There’s no treatment for night terrors, but you can help prevent them. Try to:

  • reduce your child’s stress
  • create a bedtime routine that’s simple and relaxing
  • make sure your child gets enough rest
  • help your child from becoming overtired
  • don’t let your child stay up too late

If your child has a night terror around the same time every night, you can try waking him or her up about 15–30 minutes before then to see if that helps prevent it.

Understanding night terrors can ease your worry — and help you get a good night’s sleep yourself. But if night terrors happen repeatedly, talk to your doctor about whether a referral to a sleep specialist is needed.

About Us

Family Medicine

Family MedicineIn 2024 our team of doctors and nurses provide a comprehensive range of family planning services. Our doctors have expertise in antenatal care, preconception planning, and STD checks. Contraceptive advice including Mirena and Implanon insertion is available.

  • Early detection of illness;
  • Family planning;
  • Promotion of healthy lifestyle;
  • Skin cancer checks;
  • Sports injuries;
  • Weight reduction;
  • Workers compensation and third party.

  • Children's Health

    Children's HealthBaby Weighing Service. Babies can be booked with our Nurse for weighing, a doctors appointment is not required to use this service. Contact reception for a appointment to have your baby weighed.

    Immunisations. At Tuggeranong Square children's immunisation is regarded an important part of your childs health care. Our doctors take immunising children very seriously. and to ensure all children are immunised Tuggeranong Square Medical Practice doctors BULK BILL for all childhood immunisations. Tuggeranong Square Medical Practice also ensures the Practice Nursing Staff are highly trained in childhood immunisations.


    Women's Health

    Women's HealthOur practice is dedicated to treating a wide spectrum of women’s health concerns. We offer pre-natal, antenatal and postnatal care, contraceptive options, pap screening, and preventative health care advice. We provide assistance, advice and support through all stages of life, recognising the many issues many women may face from adolescence through to the peri and post-menopausal period.

    • Cervical Screening tests;
    • Reproductive health. Including Mirena and Implanon insertion;
    • Shared antenatal care.

    Men's Health

    Men's HealthWe encourage men to present routinely to their GP to discuss all aspects of their health. We provide comprehensive advice and support for men to address the prevention and management of various health conditions. This may include assessments for cardiovascular risk, diabetes, cancer prevention, mental health assessments, STD screening, sports injuries and the importance of sleep as it relates to other areas of health.


    • Preventative Healthcare. Including cardiovascular screening, mental health and cancer checks;
    • Prostate examination.
Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
View All Articles