Sleep terrors can be scary for parents

Sleep terrors are quite common in children.

You tell him that you’re there, but he kicks and screams even louder. You try to hold him and you can feel his heart pounding. He’s sweaty. He’s looking right at you with glazed eyes, and he keeps thrashing, screaming and crying. After 30 minutes to an hour of trying to comfort him, he settles down and falls asleep. Two hours later, it happens again.

The next morning you wake up tired and your child wakes up full of energy, as if nothing happened.

These are typical sleep terrors, and as scary as they seem, they are quite common in children. Sleep terrors occur during the first half of the night and may happen several times in one night. They also can happen during daytime naps. Children are not awake during sleep terrors.

Making sure your child is safe

When they happen, you should make sure the child is safe, but avoid interfering with the event. Trying to hold, console or awaken the child may worsen or prolong the episode. With time, sleep terrors happen less and usually disappear before the teenage years. If your child has similar events but you are concerned that they may be something other than sleep terrors, talk to your child’s doctor to see if a referral to the Sleep Center at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is needed.

Louella Amos, MD– Louella Amos, MD, pediatric sleep specialist, Sleep Center, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin 

The Sleep Center at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is the only sleep center in the state dedicated solely to the care of children and teens. The center has two locations (Milwaukee and New Berlin) both accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and staffed by four board-certified pediatric sleep specialists.


What to do when your child has a sleep terror — 1 Comment

  1. My son had night terrors until he was in the third grade. They are certainly terrifying for the person who is awake. While he was having one, we would confine his movement to his room because we didn’t want him to fall down the stairs or get injured. We just stayed with him, talking to him softly and he would eventually lay back down, close his eyes, and stay asleep as if nothing had occurred. After understanding that these night terrors weren’t hurting him, we learned to take them in stride…well as much stride as you can handle at 11 pm at night. He’s now nearly 18 and doesn’t do that anymore. 🙂