Useful tools, Wellbeing

Night Terrors in Children

23 November, 2022

Having a nightmare is bad enough – night terrors, the dramatic sleep disruptions that can be distressing for children and their parents, are even worse. Here, we talk through the signs and causes of night terrors and when you may need to seek help to stop them.


What are night terrors in children?

Night terrors – or sleep terrors – may not sound much worse than nightmares. They’re both characterised by feelings of fear during and after sleeping, right? Well, any parent who has comforted their child through one will tell you they are quite different.

Night terrors in children can include episodes of screaming, intense fear and flailing about, all while still asleep. They can often be paired with sleepwalking, too, and are considered a parasomnia (an undesired occurrence during sleeping). They can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, and even longer in some rare cases, before the child simply calms down and goes back to sleeping normally.

If you think your child may be experiencing them, you can look up this ‘night terrors in children symptom checker’ online. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Suddenly sitting upright in bed
  • Shouting or screaming in distress
  • Rapid breathing or heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Thrashing in bed
  • Showing signs of fear or being upset.

Another sign of a night terror – as opposed to a nightmare – is that your child won’t remember it the following day. This is because they are in such a deep state of sleep when these episodes happen that there is nothing to recall.

Generally, night terrors occur when the central nervous system is overstimulated during sleep. Causes of night terrors in children can range from sickness and exhaustion to stress, new medication or a new environment. Sometimes, children inherit a tendency for night terrors. A reported 80 percent of children who have night terrors have a family member who also experiences parasomnias.


What to do if your child has night terrors

 Treating night terrors in children can be complicated, as there is no known cure – however, there are methods to help prevent them. These include…

  • Reducing stress
  • Creating a relaxing, simple bedtime routine
  • Ensuring they get enough rest

If your child is experiencing a night terror, it is best not to try to wake them – both because it usually doesn’t work, and because children who do wake can become disoriented and struggle to go back to sleep.

While night terrors can be very distressing for parents, the best course of action is to simply wait them out while making sure to protect them from any potential injuries that may be caused by thrashing. Remember: night terrors aren’t usually cause for concern.


When to get help for night terrors

Sometimes, you may need to seek medical help for a child’s night terrors. Whether you are experiencing night terrors in young children or night terrors in older children, there are a few reasons it may be worth consulting your regular GP…

  1. They become more frequent
  2. They routinely disrupt your child’s sleep, or your family’s sleep
  3. They are causing safety concerns or injury
  4. They result in excessive sleepiness or problems functioning during the day
  5. They continue beyond the teen years.

Most of the time, they won’t be cause for concern and will go away on their own.

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