Night terrors

Night terrors are common in children aged between three and eightyears. A child who experiences night terrors may scream, shout and thrash around in extreme panic, andmay even jump out of bed. Their eyes will be open but they're not fully awake.

The episodes usually occur in the early part of the night, continue for several minutes (up to 15 minutes) and sometimes occur more than once during the night.

Why they happen

Night terrors are more common in children with a family history of night terrors or Sleepwalking behaviour.

A night terror attack may be triggered by anything that:

  • increases how much deep sleep your child has, such as tiredness, fever orcertain types ofmedication
  • makes your child more likely to wake from deep sleep, such as excitement, anxiety , sudden noise or a full bladder

What you should do

Thebest thing to do if your child is having an episode of night terrors is to stay calm and wait until they calm down. Don't intervene orinteract with them, unless they're not safe.

Night terrors can be frightening to witness, but they don't harm your child. You shouldn't attempt to wake your child whenthey're having an episode. They may not recognise you and may become more agitated if you try to comfort them.

After the episode has ended, it's safe to wake your child. If necessary, encourage them to use the toilet before settling them back to sleep.

If your child returns quickly into deep sleep, they may have another episode. Making sure they're fully awake before they go back to sleep can break this cycle.

Your child won't remember the episode the next morning, but it may still help to have a general chat to find out if anything is worrying them and triggering the episodes. It will also help if they have a relaxing bedtime routine . Try not to discuss the episodes with your childin a way that worriesthem as this may increase their anxiety.

If the night terror episodes are frequent and occur at a specific time every night, you may find that waking your child breaks the cycle. Wake your child 15 minutes before the anticipated time of the episodeevery night for seven days. This can disrupt their sleep pattern enough to stop the episodes without affecting sleep quality.

When you should seek help

Most children eventually grow out of night terrors. However, talk to yourGP if they're occurring several times a night or occurring most nights.

Your GP will be able to check whether something that's easily treatable is causing the episodes. For example, large tonsils could be causing breathing problems at night and waking your child.

In a small number of children who have frequent episodes of night terrors, referral to a specialist service may be needed.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 21 Dec 2018