Night Terrors: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

By Dr. Anukriti Singh|3 - 4 mins read| April 12, 2024

What are night terrors?

Night terrors which are also known as sleep terrors are a type of sleep disorder. They are similar to nightmares but much more intense in nature. A child who has night terrors may wake up terrified and screaming, seem disoriented and be impossible to console. The kid may not remember this episode or the nightmare which caused it in the morning. It usually happens in kids younger than 13 years of age

What are the signs and symptoms of night terrors?

Night terrors occur when the child is asleep. A sleeping child may have a nightmare and do one or several of the following:

  • Suddenly wake up
  • Suddenly sit up in bed
  • Suddenly become upset or afraid
  • Breath of the child quickens
  • Heartbeat of the child becomes rapid
  • Child sweats profusely
  • Child thrashes around in sleep
  • Child may even suddenly get up and run from bed

A child who faces an episode of night terrors eventually calms down after a time and goes back to sleep.

What causes night terrors? 

Night terrors happen when the flight and fight centre of the brain in a child becomes over excited at partially waking up of the child. They usually occur 2-3 hours after a child goes to sleep. This is when the child is in the NREM or non rapid eye movement phase of the sleep. Overexcited flight or fight response makes the child feel terrified and panicked.

Factors which disturb sleep or do not allow deep sleep may increase the chances of having an episode of night terror. Some other factors may also be responsible. These include:

  • Not having enough sleep
  • Child being sick
  • Child feeling anxious
  • Child sleeping away from home at a new place
  • Child is under medication
  • Child has too much caffeine
  • Child suffers from obstructive sleep apnea
  • Child has reflux

Are night terrors dangerous?

Night terrors are not dangerous. They are quite dramatic and seem scary to see but most children outgrow them with age. 

What is the treatment of night terrors?

Usually there is no need of using medications for the treatment of night terrors. Doctors train the parents about what to do if their child suffers from night terrors. 

To handle an episode of night terror in your child:

  • Be present in the room when the child has night terror and wait it out
  • Ensure that the child does not hurt while thrashing around
  • Wait for your child to go back to deep sleep which happens in a few minutes

To prevent recurrence of episodes of night terror in your child:

  • Help your child handle stress and anxiety
  • Limit the intake of caffeine in your child
  • Ensure that your child gets adequate sleep
  • Ensure your child takes medications as prescribed by your doctor for treatment of reflux or obstructive sleep apnea

When should I call a doctor?

Most kids do not need extra treatment to control night terrors. But sometimes, you may need to consult a doctor if any of the following happen. It may be a sign that there might be something other than a night terror which is making your child sick.

  • An episode of night terror lasts for more than 30 min
  • There are more than one episode in a week
  • The child does not get enough sleep due to night terror
  • The child appears drowsy and tired during the day
  • The child appears stressed out 
  • There is stiffening of body, drooling or jerking of body during night terrors

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About The Author:

Dr. Anukriti Singh

Last Updated: Fri Apr 12 2024

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