Childhood Night Terrors

What are Night Terrors?

A night terror is a disorder of deep sleep when your child suddenly becomes agitated or seems ‘terrified’ in the middle of the night. They may start screaming, thrashing about and are often inconsolable. The child’s eyes are often open and so they may appear awake. The events may last around 30 minutes. Once the event is over the child will most often settle back to sleep and will have no memory of the event occurring.

Anatomy of Night Terrors

Night terrors actually occur when the child in deep sleep in the first half of the night. This is different from nightmares which occur during REM sleep most often in the second  half of the night. Night terrors may be genetic and are related to other parasomnias such as sleep walking and talking. NIGHT TERRORS ARE NOT HARMFUL TO YOUR CHILD although they may be quite  traumatic for witnesses.

What Should You Do For Your Child's Night Terrors?

  • Avoid waking your child
  • Keep them safe e.g. if you think they may bump their head or fall from the bed
  • Return them to bed if they have gotten out
  • Don’t mention it it to them. They won't remember it and may become upset.

What Causes Night Terrors in Children?

Night terrors affect 1-5% of children from one to 6 years of age. There is not a specific cause but they may be made worse by

  • Genetics
  • Lack of sleep
  • A change of sleep routines or schedules
  • Extreme excitement or stress
  • Snoring
  • Medications

When to Seek Medical Advice for Your Child's Night Terrors?

Usually night terrors are nothing to worry about and do not harm your child. Talk to your doctor in the following instances

  • Events lasting more than an hour
  • Events excessively violent
  • Events involving repetitive behaviour
  • If you child is otherwise not sleeping well
  • If your child snores excessively.