How to Help Children Deal with Night Terrors

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

Night terrors aren’t just scary for a child—they can be terrifying for parents, too. Seeing your youngster screaming, shouting, and flailing in her sleep is naturally distressing. As a parent, you want to end the episode ASAP, but these middle-of-the-night dramas are perplexing, since children often don’t remember them in the morning and don’t necessarily seem traumatized once they are over. So, what is the best way to help? Follow this smart advice.

What You Can Do

Unlike with nightmares, it’s difficult to wake up a child during a night terror. And even if you do manage to wake your youngster, the interruption may backfire since it takes a while for kids to settle down and go back to sleep. So surprisingly, the best thing to do is often nothing. Thankfully, night terrors usually don’t last long and children will resume their normal sleep once the episode is over. Most likely, they won’t remember the night terror at all the next morning.

Of course, the do-nothing technique is easier said than done. If you feel better taking some action to comfort your child, it’s ok to gently hold her hand or talk calmly and softly while the night terror is occurring. It’s not a good idea to shake or abruptly touch your child in hopes of ending the night terror, as this may make the episode worse.

Take Safety Precautions

Some children sleepwalk during their night terrors. This can put kids at risk of dangerous falls and other injuries. If your child sleepwalks during his night terror episodes, stay close by to help ensure that she is safe. It’s also a good idea to set up your home to prevent injury. Consider blocking off stairways with gates and removing any potential tripping hazards such as extension cords or bulky rugs.

Help Prevent Episodes

Although the exact cause of night terrors in unknown, extreme fatigue and a lack of sleep can trigger episodes. To reduce the chance of night terrors, make sure to stick to a regular sleep schedule that provides your tot with sufficient sleep for her age. Preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours, while school-age children require 9 to 11 hours. Most children outgrow their night terrors over time, but if you are worried about the duration or frequency of your child’s episodes, talk with your pediatrician.