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3/11/24 blog post

when to be concerned about night terrors

little boy in bed scared

in this article:

what are nights terrors?

Have you ever drifted off to sleep, only to be awakened by your child’s loud cry or scream? If your child suddenly wakes from sleep while also appearing frightened or distressed, they may be experiencing a night terror. Unlike a nightmare that occurs during REM sleep, during a night terror, your child may appear to be awake, but they are actually in a deep sleep and unaware of their surroundings. This can be a very frightening experience for parents, and your parenting instincts may tell you to wake your child from this episode. Unfortunately, this may actually make the episode last longer.

what are the treatments/remedies for night terrors?

If attempting to wake a child is not recommended, then what is the best way to help a child experiencing a night terror?

  1. Ensure your child’s safety by locking doors and windows, moving things that your child could trip over, and consider using a door alarm if your child has attempted to open doors or even leave the house.
  2. Rather than waking your child, remain with them to ensure their safety. If they have left their bed, you may try to gently guide them back to bed.
  3. Your child will not remember a night terror, and it is best to avoid discussing it the next day so your child does not become fearful of having an event.
  4. Maintain a consistent sleep-wake schedule as much as possible.
  5. Try to increase your child’s sleep duration. Sometimes, 10 to 15 extra minutes per night can decrease the frequency of night terrors.

Typically, night terrors will decrease when sleep quality and/or duration improve. They are also likely to resolve as your child gets older.

when should parents be concerned about night terrors?

If you feel that night terrors are occurring frequently (more than once a week) and are lasting longer than 30 minutes, you have concerns about your child’s safety during these events, or the episodes are disrupting sleep for the whole family, an assessment with one of our pediatric sleep medicine experts can help you to develop a unique treatment plan to help your child and family. Click here to schedule an appointment today. 

when to be concerned about night terrors
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Ryan Sinclair, PhD

behavioral health, psychology
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