Night Terrors: Terror Filled Sleep for Children

Unlike nightmares, night terrors are consistent episodes of intense screaming, crying, trashing, or fear during sleep. These episodes are reoccurring and usually occur in children between the ages of 3-12. About 1 to 6 in 100 children have night terrors, which occur in both boys and girls and children of all races. Night terrors are very rare, occur 3-6% in children, and typically tend to run in families. About 80% of children have a family member who experiences the same thing.

How are night terrors different from nightmares?

  • Nightmares commonly occur during REM sleep, while night terrors do not and will occur during non-REM sleep. You might find that it is hard to wake your child during a night terror episode and they will most likely not remember what occurred the next morning.

Signs & Symptoms:

  • Fast heart rate
  • Fast breathing
  • Sweating
  • Dilated pupils
  • Flailing around in bed
  • Screaming
  • Looks awake but confused
  • Not talking
  • Non-responsive
  • Cannot recognize that a parent is there
  • Acts upset or scared

What causes Night Terrors?

Night terrors are caused by an over-arousal of the central nervous system during sleep. The following factors have been noted in children who have experienced night terrors:

  • Overtired, ill, or stressed
  • Taking new medicine
  • Sleeping in a new environment
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Having too much caffeine

How can you help your child?

The best way to help your child is to wait it out and make sure they do not get hurt during the night terror episode. Also, it is important to note that it is best to not wake your child during the episode. Waking them during this episode can cause more disorientation and confusion. However, you can help prevent future night terrors by:

  • Reducing the child’s stress
  • Create a bedtime routine that is relaxing and simple
  • Make sure the child gets enough sleep
  • Do not let your child stay up too late

If night terrors occur repeatedly, talk to your child’s doctor to see if further evaluations and/or referrals are needed.

If you are someone you know appears to be suffering from issues linked to night terrors, please contact our psychotherapy offices in New York or New Jersey to talk to one of our licensed professional psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling & Psychotherapy. Contact our Paramus, NJ or Manhattan, NY offices respectively, at (201)368-3700 or (212)722-1920 to set up an appointment. For more information, please visit



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