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Night Terrors in Children

Night terrors occur in approximately five per cent of children aged between 2 and 8 and are actually much more terrifying for the parents than the child. Night terrors take place in the first couple of hours of sleep and typically start with a loud scream followed by heavy breathing, thrashing around in the bed, and sweating. During a night terror a child can look like they are awake as they may sit up in bed, have their eyes open, look like they are scared and even walk around and talk. This is what makes the experience so distressing to parents. However, children that have night terrors are not aware of them and will not remember anything about it in the morning. Night terrors usually last about 5 or 10 minutes and occur as the transition from deep sleep to wake becomes confused.

Night terrors are a normal part of child development which will diminish over time and parents shouldn’t be concerned if their child experiences them. However, there are some simple steps you can take at home to make night terrors easier for your family, including

- Keep the bedroom safe from objects on the floor or near the bed that could get knocked over or tripped on

- Keep the front door and windows locked at night and put a safety gate across stair ways

- Keep to a regular sleep schedule to avoid overtiredness which has been shown to worsen night terrors

- Try not to wake the child during a night terror as this may cause the night terror to worsen or cause disorientation to the child

- Avoid drawing attention to the night terrors the next day to limit distress to other children or make the child feel worried about going to sleep


You may need to consult with a paediatric sleep physician if

- The night terrors are particularly violent and pose a risk of injury to your child or family

- The night terrors are frequently disturbing the sleep of others in the house

- Your child is very sleepy during the day and having trouble concentrating

- Your child snores or exhibits symptoms of sleep apnoea