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Night Terror, Pediatric

Night Terror, Pediatric

A night terror is an episode in which a person who is sleeping becomes extremely frightened and is unable to fully wake up. When the episode is finished, the person normally settles back to sleep. Upon waking, he or she does not remember the episode.

Night terrors are most common in children who are 3–12 years old, but they can affect people of any age. They usually begin 1–3 hours after the person falls asleep, and they usually last for several minutes. Night terrors are not nightmares. Nightmares occur in early morning and they involve unpleasant or frightening dreams.


Common causes of this condition include:

  • A stressful physical or emotional event.

  • Fever.

  • Lack of sleep.

  • Medicines that affect the brain.

  • Sleeping in a new place.

A night terror may occasionally be associated with a medical condition, such as sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, or migraines.


Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Gasping, moaning, crying, or screaming.

  • Thrashing around.

  • Sitting up in bed.

  • Rapid heart rate and breathing.

  • Sweating.

  • Sleepwalking.

  • Staring.

  • Seeming awake but:

  • Being unresponsive.

  • Being dazed or confused and not talking.

  • Being unaware of your presence.


This condition is diagnosed with a medical history and a physical exam. Tests may be ordered to look for or rule out other problems.


Most children who have night terrors eventually stop having them by the time they reach adolescence. If your child has night terrors often, you may help to prevent them by waking your child about 30 minutes before the terrors usually start.

If a child has severe night terrors, medicines may be given temporarily.


General Instructions

  • Keep a consistent bedtime and wake-up time for your child.

  • Make sure that your child gets enough sleep.

  • Remove anything in the sleeping area that could hurt your child.

  • If your child sleeps in a bunk bed, do not allow him or her to sleep in the top bunk.

  • Help to limit your child's stress. Relax your child and comfort him or her at bedtime.

  • Tell your family and babysitters what to expect.

  • Give over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your child's health care provider.

What To Do During Episodes

  • Stay with your child until the episode passes.

  • Gently restrain your child if he or she is in danger of getting hurt.

  • Do not shake your child.

  • Do not try to wake your child.

  • Do not shout.

What To Do If Your Child Has Night Terrors Often

If your child has night terrors often:

  • Keep track of your child's sleeping habits.

  • Figure out how many minutes usually pass from the time when he or she falls asleep to the time when a night terror occurs.

Then, follow these steps each night for 7 nights:

  1. Wake your child 30 minutes before he or she usually has a night terror.

  2. Get your child out of bed and keep him or her awake for 5 minutes by talking to him or her.

  3. Let your child go back to sleep.

Most of the time, those actions cause the night terrors to stop.


  • Your child has more frequent or more severe night terrors.

  • Your child gets hurt during a night terror.

  • Medicines or other measures that were prescribed are not helping.

  • Your child is very tired during the day.

  • Your child is afraid to go to sleep.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.