My grandsons, who are 3 and 4 years old, have been having night terrors since they were each 18 months old. What causes these episodes?
Night terrors are somewhat mysterious. It might seem as though they're the same as a bad dream, but they aren't. Night terrors usually happen in the first 2 or 3 hours of sleep, whereas bad dreams often happen in the early morning hours.
During a night terror, kids don't actually wake up and don't respond to efforts to comfort or reassure them. When kids have bad dreams, they usually wake up feeling scared or upset, and are happy to be comforted by their parents. Night terrors are generally not remembered in the morning, while bad dreams are often at least partially recalled.
The good news is that night terrors don't seem to have any harmful effects on kids who have them, and they usually outgrow them. Experts believe that night terrors might be caused by the over-arousal of a child's immature central nervous system during sleep. Some kids may inherit a tendency for this over-arousal — about 80% who have night terrors have a family member who also had them or sleepwalking (a similar type of sleep disturbance). Sometimes night terrors are more common in kids who are going through stressful life events, on certain medications, not getting enough sleep, or having too much caffeine.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: July 2013
|American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) AASM strives to increase awareness of sleep disorders in public and professional communities.|
|National Sleep Foundation (NSF) NSF is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public health and safety by achieving understanding of sleep and sleep disorders, and by supporting education, sleep-related research, and advocacy.|
|Kids Talk About: Feeling Scared All kids feel scared once in a while. Find out what frightens them in this article for kids.|
|Should I Be Worried About My Child's Nightmares? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|How Can I Stop My Nightmares? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Nightmares Nightmares aren't totally preventable, but parents can help kids feel better when they have one and ease their transition back to sleep.|
|Nightmares Nightmares may be upsetting, but they are not "real" and can't harm you. And if you have one, you're in good company: almost everyone gets them once in awhile - adults, as well as kids. Read our article on nightmares to find out more.|
|Night Terrors A night terror is a sleep disruption that seems similar to a nightmare, but it's far more dramatic. Night terrors can be alarming, but aren't usually cause for concern or a sign of a medical issue.|
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