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Video:How to Diagnose and Treat Night Terrors

with Danelle Fisher

Night terrors are a common sleep disorder in children, and differ in many ways from typical nightmares. In this pediatrics video from About.com, learn about how to diagnose and treat night terrors.See Transcript

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Transcript:How to Diagnose and Treat Night Terrors

Hi I'm Dr. Danelle Fisher, Board Certified Pediatrician with www.WestchesterPeds.com and I'm here today for About.com to talk to you about how to diagnose and treat night terrors.

What are Night Terrors?

Night terrors are a common sleep disorder in children, causing them to wake up suddenly and be frightened, screaming and inconsolable. They typically occur from ages 2-12 years, with a peak around 3 ½ years of age. Approximately 1-6% of children will have occasional night terrors. They can be frightening to parents or caregivers the first time they occur, but they are benign and do not cause the child harm. 

What Happens When a Child Has a Night Terror?

Let's talk about what happens when a child has a night terror and how to respond to it. A night terror occurs within 1-4 hours of falling asleep. Sleep consists of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. A night terror occurs during non-REM sleep. The child will be sleeping quietly then suddenly bolt upright with a look of fear or panic. He or she will be screaming and inconsolable, not recognizing anyone or responding to comfort from a parent.

Other symptoms include rapid breathing, rapid heart rate and sweating. The night terror may last for only a few minutes or they may last up to 15-30 minutes. Afterward the child will fall back asleep easily and have no memory of the event in the morning.

Difference Between a Night Terror and a Nightmare

How is a night terror different from a nightmare? A nightmare is a bad dream that will wake up a child during REM sleep. The child may be upset or frightened but he or she can talk about the dream and is easy to console. Children who have nightmares may have a more difficult time falling back to sleep since they remember the dream.

How to Deal with a Night Terror

How should parents or caregivers deal with a night terror? Comfort the child but do not try to wake him or her up because this may cause more distress. Stay calm and quiet and keep the light in the room dim. Make sure the child's room is safe and that the child is not in danger of hurting himself or herself during an episode.  Most importantly, do not panic.

What are Night Terror Triggers?

Night terrors may be triggered by being overtired, so it's important to keep a routine bedtime and make sure the child gets enough rest. Other triggers include fever or stress. If night terrors persist or become a problem, you should check with your pediatrician. Rarely, night terrors can be an indication of a worse problem and may need further investigation. So if your child wakes up panicked and screaming, stay calm and remember how to respond. Your child will outgrow night terrors as he or she gets older. 

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