Night Terrors

Last updated: December 2021
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Many children experience night terrors but most grow out of them. They don’t cause any long term psychological harm to your child and are most common in children aged betweem 3 and 8 years old.

A terror usually happens shortly after going to sleep (often one hour or 1.5 hours) as the child passes from one stage of the sleep cycle to the next.

Your child will appear to be terrified but is actually asleep. They may thrash around, scream, have a racing heartbeat, be sweating and look wild-eyed. They generally won’t recognise you (though they may be shouting your name) and won’t take comfort from you. It can last for several minutes – sometimes more. They can be distressing to witness but are not usually cause for concern.

As the terror passes, your child may rouse from sleep and have no recollection of it the next morning.

Why do night terrors happen?

A terror is often triggered by:

  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Certain types of medication
  • Excitement
  • Anxiety

What to do about night terrors

  • Keep calm, wait for the terror to pass and then settle them back to sleep
  • When these are regular try rousing your child 10-15 minutes before they usually happen for two weeks to break the cycle.
  • Try to keep a relaxing, consistent bed time routine.
  • Children usually grow out of night terrors but if you are concerned consult your GP.

Do night terrors occur in adults?

While terrors are usually associated with children, they can sometimes affect adults. A condition such as obstructive sleep apnoea, restless legs syndrome or migraines can be a trigger.