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What Are Night Terrors and How to Avoid Them

What are night terrors


Everything You Need To Know About Night Terrors

Have you ever found your child screaming awake in the middle of the night, and wondered what could be wrong?

If you answered yes to that, you are not alone. Several parents around the world still don’t quite understand what makes their children wake up screaming and crying from sleep in the middle of the night when nothing is seemingly wrong. What worries parents more is the fact that the children have no memory of what made them wake up agitated.

Most people assume such occurrences to be nightmares. But there is something more common than that behind these episodes: night terrors.

What Are Night Terrors?

Unlike nightmares, night terrors are actually a sleep disorder, mostly affecting children below the age of 12. During a night terror episode, the child may still be partly asleep, and not be aware of their surroundings.

Although night terrors are most common in children, it also affects a small percentage of adults. While children grow out of night terrors as they get older, adults may need help to get better.

How To Recognize Night Terrors

Some of the most common symptoms of night terrors are the same as that of nightmares. These include:

  • Sudden awakening from sleep
  • Crying or screaming
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeats
  • Fear of going back to sleep
  • Harsh breathing

While children are more likely to forget these episodes, adults tend to remember them. This is because children don’t fully awaken during a sleep terror episode, but adults wake up completely, allowing them to remember what happened. Quite often, night terrors are accompanied by sleepwalking (also called somnambulism). This creates more danger for the person by increasing the risk of injury and accidents.

What Causes Night Terrors?

No definite cause has yet been found for night terrors, but a significant factor might be sleep deprivation or too much stress.

In children, a very important cause of night terrors is an unhealthy environment at home. When a child is constantly affected by stress and conflict, it may result in sleep disorders like night terrors.


These episodes can also occur in children because of their underdeveloped nervous system. This causes the fight or flight mode to be activated at wrong times, resulting in night terrors. Other underlying causes may include illnesses like high fever, tiredness, or head injuries.

In adults, the causes of night terrors can be more severe, and often accompanied by other disorders like anxiety or insomnia. Night terrors in adults can also be a result of post traumatic stress disorder or drug abuse.

While childhood night terrors usually go away with age, adults need medical help to get better since there are underlying causes that need to be treated.

Treatments For Night Terrors

Sleep terrors in children are fairly easy to treat since most of the time they are not caused by any underlying condition. The most important treatment for childhood night terrors is a comfort. Being with the child and providing comfort and reassurance is usually enough to pacify them and help them fall back asleep.

Parents must be aware of any unusual symptoms they notice about their children’s night terrors. This may include a particular pattern of these episodes, or any underlying causes like anxiety, illnesses, or injury.

Doctors treat childhood night terrors by either therapy, medication, or by suggesting relaxation techniques.

Therapy includes talking to the patient, finding out underlying conditions, and suggesting coping mechanisms to manage stress. If any particular event has caused stress and anxiety in the child, then the doctor will try to find it out by talking to the patient and gently seeking information. In more severe cases, hypnotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy may also be used to get to the root of the problem and treat sleep terrors.

Medications are rarely used to treat night terrors, but if these episodes aren’t caused by any serious condition and still continue to affect the person after therapy, the doctor may prescribe sleeping pills or tranquilizers bring about uninterrupted sleep.

In children, the most effective way to cope with night terrors is by establishing a relaxation routine before bedtime. This includes taking a warm bath, having a hot drink, reading or listening to stories, or doing meditation. These techniques must be initiated by parents, and usually, take some time to show results, but are effective in the long run to calm down the child and aid in better sleep.

Coping With Night Terrors

Comfort and reassurance are usually enough to treat childhood night terrors as long as they are not caused by any underlying condition. Holding the child and assuring them that they aren’t in any danger is the best way to help calm them down. If possible, one of the parents may sleep with the child to provide a sense of safety.

Parents must make sure children get proper sleep every day, and eliminate stress by incorporating fun and relaxing activities in the daily routine. The environment at home should be peaceful, and not create stress in the child’s life. If a child doesn’t grow out of these episodes by age 10 or 12, medical help must be sought.

Adults can try making some lifestyle changes, like getting more sleep, reducing intake of caffeine or tobacco, and indulging in relaxation before bedtime. Usually, these will suffice unless there is any serious cause behind the sleep terrors. In that case, a doctor must be consulted for appropriate treatment. This might take some time to eliminate the sleep terror episodes but generally, provide relief if treatment is completed.

Night terrors are not usually a cause for concern. While both children and adults may experience them, some simple lifestyle changes and proper sleep are enough to provide relief. Any unusual pattern or symptom must be reported to a doctor to rule out any serious medical condition.


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