Night Terrors

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Question: Sometimes, my child wakes up screaming and is inconsolable no matter what I try to do.  What can I do to help him calm down?

Answer:  It sounds like he might be experiencing a night terror.

Night terrors occur about 2-3 hours after a child falls asleep when transitioning from REM (deep sleep) to no-REM (less deep sleep). They are caused by over-stimulation of the nervous system.  A night terror is similar to nightmares but far more dramatic.  A child will not remember a night terror in the morning.  A child having a night terror may…

  • Shout out or scream in distress
  • Suddenly sit up in bed
  • Have a faster breathing and a quicker heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Thrashing around
  • Acting upset and scared

After a few minutes, they will lay back down and fall back to sleep.  Although night terrors are very distressing to the parents, it is best to wait patiently and if your child is thrashing around, make sure she doesn’t hurt herself. Don’t try to wake your child up from a night terror, as she will fall back to sleep on his own.  If night terrors happen frequently, talk to your child’s doctor about a possible referral to a sleep specialist.