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Night Terrors


What are night terrors?

A night terror is when your child suddenly wakes up in fear out of a deep sleep. Your child does not remember the terror the next day. Night terrors (also called sleep terrors) are not the same as nightmares.

What increases my child's risk of night terrors?

The exact cause of night terrors is not known. The following may increase your child's risk of night terrors:

  • A family member who has had night terrors
  • Not enough sleep
  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Having another sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea
  • Stress, such as toilet training problems, having a new babysitter, or starting a new school

What are the signs and symptoms of night terrors?

A night terror may last less than 1 minute or up to 30 minutes. The terror may occur while your child is in bed, or he may walk or run during the terror. Your child may have any of the following during a terror:

  • He is breathing fast, sweating, or has a rapid heartbeat.
  • He does recognize or respond to you when you speak to him or touch him.
  • He screams, cries, shouts, gasps, or moans.
  • He sits up, has a wide-eyed stare, or looks confused or scared.
  • He kicks, rolls, or thrashes.

How are night terrors diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's health history, night terrors, and sleep patterns. He may order a sleep study for your child. A sleep study gives information about your child's brain, heart, and breathing during sleep.

How are night terrors treated?

There is no treatment for night terrors. Most children outgrow night terrors as they get older. Healthcare providers will help you learn to cope with your child's night terrors.

What can I do to help my child?

  • Stay calm: Do not panic while your child is having a night terror. Do not wake him during a night terror. He will fall back to sleep on his own.
  • Make his bedroom safe: Do not place things that may break, such as toys, a lamp, or a mirror, near your child. He could get hurt by these things if he gets out of bed or kicks or thrashes about in his bed.
  • Keep your child safe: Lock your windows and doors in case your child sleepwalks during night terrors. You could also hang a bell on your child's door to warn you that he is out of his bed.
  • Help your child manage his fears: Talk to your child about his fears and help him find ways to deal with stress.
  • Help your child get enough sleep: Put him to bed earlier than usual if you feel he is not getting enough sleep.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child's night terrors prevent him from doing his daily activities.
  • Your child's night terrors are getting worse.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Your child has trouble breathing all of a sudden.
  • Your child has hurt himself or someone else.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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