Night Terrors And How Parents Can Help

Have you ever found your child sitting up in bed screaming, appearing to be awake but is totally confused, disoriented, fearful and unresponsive to you?  Comforting words or touch do not work?

Pretty scary isn’t it?

Night terrors typically occur in children ages 1-12 with a peak onset around 3.5 years old.


Sleep is divided into 2 categories: rapid eye movement (REM) and nonrapid eye movement (non-REM).  Non-REM sleep is broken down even further into 4 stages, progressing from stages 1-4.  Night terrors occur during the transition from stage 3 non-REM sleep to stage 4 non-REM sleep.  Usually beginning approximately 90 minutes after the child falls asleep.

A night terror will last 1-2 minutes on average but can on for as long as 30 minutes.

During this time you won’t likely be able or want to wake your child.  He or she would likely become scared and agitated especially by your reaction to the night terror.

Offer comfort if you can and help him or her return to sleep once it is over. You just have to wait it out and make sure he doesn’t hurt himself. Don’t speak to him or try to soothe him, and don’t try to shake or startle him awake or physically restrain him — all of which could lead to more frantic behavior. In 15 to 20 minutes, your child should calm down, curl up, and fall into a deep sleep again.

Your child will not likely rem


ember the episode in the morning.

One of the biggest contributors to night terrors is sleep deprivation.

Each of us has a certain sleep requirement every night that we need to keep us functioning at our optimum level.  When we fall short of this requirement we incur “sleep debt” which prevents us from functioning our bests.  If this “debt” isn’t addressed, it adds up over time and significantly alters our productivity, mood, recovery and even our safety.  None of which are healthy!

An early bedtime is always best.  Instead of letting your 5-year-old stay up until 8:30 pm, try putting them to bed at 7:30 and you might just see those night terrors disappear.

Ensure you have a calm and soothing bedtime routine full of rituals that are comforting and soothing.  i.e. a bath, massage, stories, songs and lot sof cuddles.

Limit TV time and violent movies and video games before bed.

Night terrors are a mysterious disturbance that can be avoided by a few tweaks in your scheduling and child’s sleep and activities.


Rest up!