Night Terrors: Usually No Cause for Concern

Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, are not the same as nightmares.

What is the difference?

Nightmares are scary dreams that seem very real. Your child wakes up and is usually afraid. They usually occur late in the night.

Night terrors are different. Your child suddenly wakes up with a shriek, cry, or some other sound. Your child may appear as though he or she is awake and upset. He or she may also sweat, shake, have a reddened face, and breathe fast. Night terrors usually occur early in the night. 

After a night terror, your child usually falls quickly back to sleep. He or she was not really awake. It is unlikely that your child will remember the night terror, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Night terrors occur irregularly. Some children have them once a month, while others have them a few nights in a row. They occur most frequently in childhood and usually end by adolescence. Overall, about 5% of children have them. The cause is unknown. 

What should you do?

Do not try to wake up your child during a night terror. Keep him or her safe to prevent injury, until the night terror has ended. Keep in mind that night terrors are generally more frightening for the person witnessing them than for the child experiencing them.

Talk to your child's health care provider if you have questions or concerns about night terrors.