Night Terrors in Children: Signs, Symptoms, Causes and Treatment


Night Terrors! Don’t try to link these with common nightmares. These are very much different from those. Night terrors generally occur in children between 3 to 12 years. There may be different causes, symptoms, and signs that you may notice in your child during this phase and we are going to discuss all of it in this article. Not only this, we will also look forward to the treatment procedures that you may consider for letting your child sleep in peace.

Signs, Symptoms, Causes and Treatment of Night Terrors in Children

night terrors in children

What is a Night Terror?

Night terrors are comparatively much different from those common nightmares. They occur frequently and cause fear in one’s mind. You may at times find difficulty in arousing your child. The following disorder is conspicuous during the adolescent years. Around 1% to 6% of children today experience from night terrors. These usually occur after a time duration of 90 minutes when your child falls asleep. Night terrors generally go within a few days or maybe a week but if they persist for a longer time period, it is recommended to consult your doctor. Oftentimes, these are usually paired with sleepwalking which is considered a parasomnia.

Causes of Night Terror:

So what causes a sleep terror? Sleep happens in a number of stages and dreams happen during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage. Whereas, a night terror takes place during a non-REM sleep. Well, night terror is not a dream but a fear that occurs during the transition from one stage of sleep to another. A child often times becomes frightened and that reaction is what we call a night terror.

There may be several causes your child might be going through this phase. These are pretty common with children who have had a family history of sleep terrors and occur when a child is in deep sleep.

  • Sleep Deprivation
  • Certain medications that affect the brain
  • Fever
  • Traumatic life events

Read more: Signs and Symptoms of Epilepsy in Children


Symptoms of Night Terror:

We all know some of the common symptoms of night terrors such as intense crying with difficulty in arousing the child, fear during sleep. But there certain symptoms that are pretty uncommon and these are listed below:

  • Increase in breathing rate
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Almost impossible to calm down and relax
  • Sleepwalking
  • Move around in bed
  • Yell or scream
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • The child may become afraid to go to sleep
  • Wide eyes with dilated pupils

Children generally cannot recall their nightmares when they wake up in the morning. They will be completely unaware of the incident as if nothing has happened. If night terrors continue to take place even after your child’s teen years, it is of major concern. Take your child to the doctor and follow the diagnosis or the treatment procedure as recommended by him.

Treatment for Night Terror:

At times, it becomes important to consult a doctor when sleep terrors occur often times. Make sure you provide your child’s medical history to the doctor because he will examine it and then possibly provide the treatment procedure.

  • Discussing the symptoms: the first and foremost thing your doctor is likely to ask you is about the symptoms. Your doctor will provide you with the diagnosis based on the description of your events. Your child will likely be asked to fill a questionnaire that will be based on his/her sleeping behaviors. You will also need to provide the doctor with the sleeping problems that any of your family members had suffered earlier in the history.
  • A physical exam: the physical exam will help the doctor in identifying the root causes that are contributing to the sleep terror.
  • Polysomnography: at times your doctor may recommend you an overnight study that will take place in a sleep lab.¬†There will be sensors placed on your body that will record and monitor brain waves. This will also keep track your heart rate, and breathing, the oxygen level in your body, eye and leg movements when you are sleeping. The doctor may as well make a video of your child to document your behavior during sleep cycles.
  • Medication: medication is rarely used to treat sleep terrors, especially when it comes to children. However, certain antidepressants may be effective at some places if your doctor recommends the use of it.
  • Addressing stress: if anxiety or stress is something that has been contributing a major part to your sleep terrors, your doctor may recommend you to meet a therapist or even a counselor. Relaxation therapy, behavioral therapy at such places may help.
  • Anticipatory awakening: well, the person will be awakened 15-20 minutes before he/she is likely to experience a sleep terror. The child will stay awake for the next few minutes before actually falling asleep again.

Hope this article was of help for all our parents!! Please share your comments/queries/tips with us and help us create a world full of Happy and Healthy Babies!!