Toddler's Night Terrors

Updated on March 22, 2008
K.V. asks from Omaha, NE
13 answers

My (almost) 2 year old has started having night terrors, and I have no idea why! We read her happy stories, say prayers, and give lots of good night kisses at bedtime. But she still wakes up screaming at 3, 4, and 5:00 in the morning, sweating, shaking, and terrified! I always rush to soothe her, and she calms down quickly when I enter the room. I change her diaper, get her some milk or juice, and rock her back to sleep. Sometimes it works and she sleeps the rest of the night; other times she wakes up within a few hours from another nightmare. Does anyone have experience w/this kind of thing or know what I can do? It's breaking my heart to see her so shaken up!!

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So What Happened?

Thanks to everyone for responding and sharing your experiences. We've been comforting her without taking her out of her crib, and she's sleeping much better now. Episodes are becoming increasingly few and far between, and we're much more confident that she'll grow out of this stage and be just fine. Thanks again for caring to write!

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answers from Des Moines on

When my middle son started having terrors we took him to the doctor and eventually found out that they can be caused by ADHD. Its just one possibility to look at. He was around 2 when they started.

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answers from Des Moines on

I found this info about night terrors. The scariest thing we deal with as parents is when our children are distressed. Be sure to take a second or too to relax and allow yourself to collect the information before getting stressed out. Kids pick up on that and sometimes that can make it worse. Hope this helps.
Pediatric Basics
Night terrors are a common sleep problem among children. By some estimates, about 15% of younger children have occasional night terrors. Although most common in children between the ages of 2 and 6 years, they can occur at almost any age.
Although usually considered to be normal or benign, they are often very scary and distressing to parents who often overreact, especially during a child's first night terror.

When you hear how most experts describe night terrors, it is easy to see why parents find them distressing. Children who have night terrors are usually described as 'bolting upright' with their eyes wide open, with a look of fear and panic, and letting out a 'blood curdling scream'.
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These kids will usually also be sweating, breathing fast and have a rapid heart rate (autonomic signs). And although it will seem like they are awake, during a night terror, children will appear confused, will not be consolable and won't recognize you.
Typical night terrors last about 5 to 30 minutes and afterwards, children usually return to a regular sleep. If you are able to wake your child up during a night terror, he is likely to become scared and agitated, mostly because of your own reaction to the night terror, especially if you were shaking or yelling at him to wake up. Instead of trying to wake up a child having a night terror, it is usually better to just make sure he is safe, comfort him if you can, and help him return to sleep once it is over.

The diagnosis of night terrors is usually made by the history of a child 'waking' early in the night screaming and being inconsolable. Night terrors are most often confused with nightmares, but unlike night terrors, a child having a nightmare is usually easily woken up and comforted.
The other worry for many parents is that these episodes are a type of seizure. Although different types of partial seizures, including temporal lobe and frontal lobe epilepsy, can appear similar to night terrors, they are usually brief (30 seconds to a few minutes) and are more common in older children and adults.

No treatment is usually necessary for routine night terrors. Since they are often triggered in children who are overtired, sticking to a good bedtime routine and making sure your child is getting enough rest can help to prevent them.
For children who get frequent night terrors, it might help to wake your child up before the time that he usually has a night terror. This is thought to interrupt or alter the sleep cycle and prevent night terrors from occuring (it also works for sleepwalking).

Rarely, sleep medications might be used for a short time if your child gets very frequent night terrors.

What You Need To Know
Night terrors are also called sleep terrors or pavor nocturnus.

Similar to sleepwalking and sleeptalking, night terrors are considered to be a disorder of arousal and are a partial arousal from non-REM sleep.

Unlike a nightmare, children usually don't recall having a night terror.

Also unlike nightmares, night terrors usually occur in the early part of the night, about 1 to 4 hours after going to sleep.

If your child gets night terrors, make sure that baby sitters and other caregivers are aware of them and know what they should do if one occurs.

Most children outgrow night terrors as they get older.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boise on

My son used to wake up screaming too and I wondered the same thing as you! Usually when a child is having night terrors they are unable to be aroused from them, since it happens in their deepest sleep. If your daughter wakes up, or is calmed down when you come in the room, she is probably just having a nightmare. Here are a few links to some websites that were helpful for me. I hope they help you as well! If these don't work, just google night terrors and it will bring up a ton of sites with great info! Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pocatello on

My daughter is 15 months old and she has had night terrors since she was about 6 months old, which is extremely rare. You can do as many happy things as possible before bedtime but night terrors are triggered in the brain and most scientists are still trying to fully explain it. While it is very scary for you, your daughter may not be fully aware what is going on. With night terrors they are still asleep when the screaming begins, even if their eyes are open. Trying to wake them up can be very difficult. Night terrors are not dangerous (though if she walks or thrashes during them that can lead to danger) Chances are if it is a true night terror your daughter does not remember them. I would keep doing what you are doing and that is going in to comfort her. Rather then waking her completly up though I would just hold her until it is over. Because you take the risk of the cycle starting all over again. Here is a website with some good information.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Lincoln on

My daughter had night terrors when she was 2. We found out that was caused by not having enough rest during the day. Once we made sure she had a good nap every afternoon, she slept through the night like an angel. My daughter is almost 4 now, and she still needs a daily nap to prevent night terrors.

Night terror is different from nightmares. Night terror usually happens within 2-3 hours after they fell asleep. And children can hardly be awaken or comforted.

Your situation sounded more like a nightmare. Sometimes kids' imaginations turned into nightmares. This is something you can talk to her about.

Good luck.



answers from Iowa City on

Me and my family use dream catchers. We actually found really good ones at an indian swap meets. The theory of them is that you put the dream cathcer on the wall above the person who is sleeping, so when the dreams come, the catcher acts as a filter and captures the nightmares and only lets the good dreams go through. Iknow that this sounds like a bunch of bull, but it helped me, my daughter and my neice. After we got our dream catcher, the only time that the night mares came back was when it was full so we took it outside flipped it upside down and shook it out. Once again we only had pleasant dreams.

I hope this helps, I always hate to see my kids so upset, I feel useless. and it truely breaks my heart.

Good Luck



answers from Boise on

Ok here is my experience. My son is 4 and he has gone through a lot in his little 4 years. I delt with his night terrors for 2 years with no change and very little success. I ended up taking my son to a Psychologist who specializes in children. His regular medical doctor was out of ideas and referred me to one. Anyways, he went through some counseling and it helped for a while till he started visiting his biological father again. The Doctor ended up putting my son on Risperdal. It has helped TREMONDIOUSLY!!!! We can definately tell the difference when he doesn't have his meds. He is up almost all night with the night terrors and only gets about 2 hours of sleep MAYBE. With the meds, he sleeps all night long and awakes in the morning being a happy, refreshed little 4 year old boy. He has had no side-effects from the med, but as with all meds the are some risks. Your doctor will explain that to you. I don't know your child's medical history or their family history for that matter but it might be something for you to look into. It paid off for us. I contumplated on putting my son on meds for a long time, but the longer I waited with nothing else working, the more sleep he was loosing and the more he was missing out on in life. If I had to do it all over again....I wouldn't have taken so long to get him help! I hope this helps you. If you need a referal to a Child Psychologist, I would reccommend where my son goes...Psychatric Services on Eastland. They are wonderful with childern and they work with you when it comes to their care, and making decisions on what to do. Let me know how it goes and if this was helpfull to you. Have a good evening...Pj and Family.



answers from Grand Forks on

I feel for son use to have those from the age of 1 to 7 yrs. of age. There is nothing you can really do for her not to get them. You are doing exactly what I use to do. The main thing is just soothe her and pray that it doesn't happen again that night. My son would get them about 3 times a week. SCARY!!! The dr. said that they don't even remember or know what's happeing to them. I hope that's true but I question it.I have three children, I'm also a SAHM, and the only one that suffers from this is my oldest. My youngest daughter is 6 months and I hope she doesn't have to go through that. As a mom you are trying your hardest to protect them from everything, including dreams/night terrors. I hope that your little one will soon out grow them. Best of luck!! :)



answers from Dubuque on

Hun we went through the same thing with our daughter. She would wake up screaming & not even open her eyes. She would be so upset she would make herself throw up. You need to comfort your little one with your words. Do not get her out of bed. They say that is the worst thing because it prolongs the terror. Calming words & rubbing her arms & legs may help. I also read somewhere that stress can trigger these terrors. (My dausghter was stressed because of me changing jobs) After 6mths or so things were better. Hang in there & remember she is just as scard as you are!!



answers from Sioux Falls on

I have a daughter that is 5 and she has had night terrors since she was one 1/2 so I know a thing or two about them.
I have taken her to my regular doctor and he checked her out and then sent me to a threipist and then she checked her out and sent me to a ears and nose doctor who checked her out who sent me to a pediactrics sleep study doctor.
Now that you know that I have been around the block and back with my daughter and the doctors. I was wondering if you could tell me more on how she is acting.
Try to make a list of anything that she does repedidly when she wakes up with the night terror like if she grabs her legs and claws or if she just screems. If it is a night terror when you go in the room when she is screeming she would not want to be coudled. It is probally just a nightmare in sted.
But your the best judge of that. Make sure that you do read up on night terrors and if you don't know what to do aftor that get a camcorder and video tape her on a couple of her episodes then when you go to the doctor they can see just what is exactaly happening. Hope any of this helps. Best of luck to you.if you have any more questions on this subject just mail me. H.



answers from Omaha on

now my three year old litle grl did the same thing you are decribing and the doctors told me that it can be caused by heritity or just by a quick stardle



answers from Casper on

Hi Kaite,
My 13 month old son has night terrors too. There is not anything you can to stop them or prevent them. However make sure your daughter gets plenty of rest during the day. My sons doctor said that lack of sleep triggers the night terrors. I had to change my son's daycare because he wasn't taking naps at his old one and he would have a night terror everynight. Now that he gets 2 naps a day he hasnt had one. The best thing to do for them is comfort your child like you already do. Hopefully your child will grow out of them soon. There are a lot of informative websites out there. I saw that other moms had listed them. Just stay strong and remeber your child doesn't remember it when they wake up I know its hard but just stay positive.



answers from Billings on

My son had night terrors around that age. It was a very difficult experience. He did not stop right away when I picked him up and held him. It was like he didn't even know I was there. I had to physically restrain him, to keep him from hurting himself or me, most nights for 15 to 45 minutes at time until he wore himself out and fell back to sleep. As far as I know there is no easy way around them and they can go on for months. My son went through it for about six months and then it finally subsided. I was told by doctors that it was possibility he was dealing with something much like tramadic stress syndrome because of his premature birth, time spent in NICU, and surgery and casting of his club feet. I know it was a difficult time for me, as well, emotionally, because I was also going through a seperation with his father. So you may want to look at some major stressful events going on in your family life, or that had happened recently as the trigger events for these episodes. Sorry I am not able to help much, but maybe you can find the underlining cause of these terrors from my suggestions.

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