Q&A Thursday: My Child Has Night Terrors. What Should I Do?

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It’s not uncommon to have a parent report a child who struggles with night terrors. We always recommend staying in dialogue with your pediatrician about your child’s sleeping patterns and any disruptive patterns you observe.  Here’s a short understanding of Night Terrors and how to respond.

A night terror is a sleep disruption that seems like a nightmare, but is more dramatic in presentation. Dreams occur during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.  Night terrors happen during deep non-REM sleep.  A child may sit up in bed, or shout or scream in distress.  Similarly, they may have an elevated heart rate, sweat, and wake up scared or upset.  Unlike a nightmare, kids won’t have a memory of the night terror the next day because they were in deep sleep when it took place.   Night terrors don’t seem to have any harmful effects and kids typically outgrow them.  They have been noted to be more common in kids who are going through stressful life events, on certain medications, not getting enough sleep, sleeping in a new environment or away from home.   There is no known treatment for night terrors, but most clinicians will encourage parents to establish and maintain a consistent bed-time ritual, make sure a child gets needed rest, prevent your child from getting overtired or staying up too late, and try to reduce stress.