Children with night terrors awaken at night screaming or talking wildly. They act confused and frightened. They can't be awakened or comforted. Each episode lasts 10 to 15 minutes and then the child returns to sleep. In the morning, they have complete amnesia for the whole thing. Night terrors almost always occur 1 or 2 hours after going to sleep. Night terrors are inherited. Other family members commonly have sleepwalking or night terrors. After a few years, they disappear.
If your child is having night terrors, what should you do?
- First: Try to get your child back into his bed. Stay with your child and turn out the lights. Remember that night terrors are harmless and each episode will end of its own accord.
- Second: Try to help your child return to normal sleep. Your goal is to help your child go from agitated sleep to a calm sleep. You won't be able to awaken your child, so don't try to. Make soothing comments such as, "You're all right. You're home in your own bed. You can rest now." Speak slowly and repetitively.
If your child has frequent night terrors, a new method for curing them has been described by Dr. Lask. It's called prompted awakenings.
- First: Awaken your child 15 minutes before the predicted time of onset of the night terror. (This will usually be about 1 hour after falling asleep).
- Second: Keep your child awake for 5 minutes. Get him walking and talking.
- Third: Carry out these prompted awakenings for 7 consecutive nights. In most children, this interruption of the sleep pattern will teach your child how to break out of deep sleep and eliminate the night terrors. Night terrors are terrifying for your child and frustrating for you, but they are almost always a phase that will pass.
If you have other questions about night terrors, consult your healthcare provider.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D. FAAP
Last Review: 6/1/2008
Last Revised: 9/1/2001
Copyright 1994-2008 Barton Schmitt, M.D. Parent Advice Messages.