Interrupted Sleep: Why Your Child Might Have Night Terrors


night terror

When your body becomes tired your brain undergoes a series of changes in order to transition into sleep mode, also known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Usually, this transition is unproblematic and unconscious. The brain activity involved in light REM sleep causes dreaming to occur. Nightmares are experienced in this state. However, night terrors are experienced in non-REM sleep and are often seen in children 4-12 years of age. Night terrors are similar to nightmares yet they are more dramatic, may involve physical activity, and are usually not recollected. The source of night terrors is an irregular transition from two different stages of sleep that normally occurs 2-3 hours into their rest. It is also the result of an over-aroused or immature central nervous system. Factors that can increase your child’s chances of a night terror include: lack of sleep, increased stress, illness, a start or change in medication, or being in an unfamiliar environment.

During a night terror, a child can become frightened or negatively hyperactive. Common actions during an episode includes: sitting upright, crying, screaming in distress, flailing of arms, and kicking of legs. It is to be noted that the child has no idea that this is happening, making it difficult for the parent to sooth him or her. As a parent, it is normal to be nervous and distraught during an episode. The best thing to do is to remain calm, make sure the child is in a secure place, and patiently wait until the episode ceases. This can take up to about 10 minutes. It is important for the parent to know not to wake the child, for this can cause more traumas during the episode. It is easy to worry about the progression of your child’s night terrors; however, these episodes disappear in time.

If you believe a loved one has or may experience a child with night terrors, the psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurse practitioners or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling can help you. Contact our Bergen County, NJ or Manhattan offices respectively at (201)-368-3700 or (212)-722-1920 to set up an appointment. Visit for more information.

By: Jennifer Oscherician



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