Night Terror Episodes in Children | Kids Clinic Singapore

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Dr Dave Ong: 26 July

Last updated: 1 July

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Night Terrors

What are Night Terrors?

Night terrors refer to a disturbance during sleep when your child may suddenly scream, cry, mumble or trounce about in his or her sleep. It may seem dramatic and can be disturbing for you to witness, but it is usually not a cause for concern as children often outgrow these episodes by about 12 years of age. It is important to note night terrors may occur with other sleep disorders such as sleepwalking.

Night terrors are a sleep disturbance during which your child may scream, cry, mumble or thrash during sleeping.

What Causes Night Terrors?

Night terrors often occur if your child has an irregular sleep pattern, there is a change in the usual routine or if they are facing stress and anxiety during the day. Children also have a higher tendency of getting night terrors if they do not get sufficient sleep.

Is My Child Having Night Terrors?

During a night terror episode, your child might:

  • Shout or scream in distress
  • Sit up in bed and appear upset or frightened
  • Kick or thrash around
  • Have an increased heart or breathing rate
  • Perspire
  • Be inconsolable

If your child is having a night terror episode, do not try to wake them up.

What Should I Do If My Child Has Night Terrors?

It is normal for you to worry if your child has night terror episodes as a good night’s sleep is an important contributor to their development. Occasional and infrequent night terror episodes usually do not warrant any cause for concern – although you may bring it up during a routine check with your paediatrician. However, do consult a doctor if your child experiences the following:
  • An increased frequency in episodes
  • Regular disruption of sleep which results in fatigue and inability to perform during the day
  • Cause for safety concerns or injury
  • Episodes continue well into the teenage years
Children with night terror episodes typically have no memory of the event after waking up. You can also follow these steps to help prevent the episodes from recurring:
  1. Observe the pattern and frequency of your child’s night terror episodes (time of occurrence, duration of the episode)
  2. Wake your child up about 10 to 15 minutes before the expected night terror episode
  3. Try not to awaken your child fully and put him or her back to sleep
If you continue this routine for a week, it will usually break the recurrence of the night terror episodes.
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