Nightmares and Night Terrors Part 2

night terrors


Night terrors are different from nightmares as they usually happen early in the evening about 1 ½ to 3 hours after going to sleep.  They happen in non-REM deep sleep and during transitions from deep before getting to light sleep.  The child may sit up suddenly and cry out and be unaware that he is even awake. The child may be very agitated and even thrash around for a few minutes.  Possible sweating and large pupils are other symptoms.  Often the child is not fully awake and doesn’t know the parent is in the room and doesn’t even remember the event in the morning. Some night terrors can last as long as 15 minutes and can trigger sleepwalking.  Night terrors mostly occur in a child around the ages of 2 ½ to 12 years of age.  However, there have been occurrences in children as young as 18 months old.

The most difficult thing about night terrors is that it is more upsetting to the parent then the child because the child doesn’t remember it.  He has no visual images to remember.  The cause is thought be an over arousal of the central nervous system (CNS) and young children have an immature CNS.  Some experts feel it may be attributed to fever, illness, extreme stress, not enough sleep, taking certain medications or sleeping away from home or an unfamiliar place.

Here are some things parents can do to help;

  1. Don’t try to wake him if he is having an episode as he will be confused and frightened. A child will wake on their own or go back to sleep.
  2. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep and not over tired. An earlier bedtime may be helpful.
  3. Eliminate as much stress in your child’s life as possible. This include cutting down on some of their activities during the day so they have more down time to relax.  If your family is going through some difficult times due to separation from a spouse, serious illness or some other kind of life changer talk about it.  Find a way to help process it together so he can feel more comfortable about the situation.
  4. Secure the child’s room so he is safe and won’t hurt himself if he should get up in the middle of the night or is prone to sleepwalking. A gate maybe necessary and keeping things off his bedroom floor so he doesn’t trip over anything should he get up.


Night terrors are rare and usually disappears when the central nervous system matures usually before adolescence.  They can be inherited from other family member and often more common among boys. They may only happen once or twice in your child’s life or not at all.  If they become a regular occurrence talk with your health care provider.

If you missed part 1 of nightmares and night terrors



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