Sleep Terrors / Night Terrors / Nightmares 

Does your child/teen do the following:

 Starts screaming early in the night. 
 Has wide open, wild eyes, but is asleep.  
 Child cannot be awakened and is unresponsive to parent comforting.  

If so, read the following information about the difference between Sleep or Night Terrors and Nightmares or click this button to obtain helpful interventions and screen your child for related sleep problems: 

Sleep Terrors / Night Terrors or Nightmares?

The terms “Sleep Terrors” and “Night Terrors” are used interchangeably and are referring to the same pediatric sleep disorder.  Sleep Terrors / Night Terrors are parasomnias, which are “unpleasant or undesirable behavioral or experiential phenomena that occur predominantly during the sleep period” (Mahowald, Chokroverty, Kader, & Schenck, 1997, p. 67).  Simply stated, parasomnias like Sleep Terrors or Night Terrors are unusual movements or behaviors during sleep, many of which occur when the child is transitioning from the deepest sleep level of Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep into Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.  It is believed that the Sleep or Night Terrors occur when the child gets “stuck” between level 4 of NREM sleep (slow wave or deep sleep) and REM (dream state) sleep. As a result, the brain is not transitioning smoothly from one sleep stage to another.

These Sleep or Night Terrors often occur in the first third of the night and about 60-90 minutes after the child falls asleep.  The child is partially, but not fully awakened, and it triggers a state of intense anxiety and often a fearful nightmare-like state.  However, Sleep or Night Terrors are different from Nightmares because children can be awakened from a Nightmare, talk about it, and remember it; however, a child with a Sleep or Night Terror cannot be awakened from it, nor can they talk about it, and usually the child does not remember it the next morning.

Real Sleep or Night Terrors are very unsettling experiences for parents because the child often reacts suddenly by sitting upright in bed and screaming or crying in a frightful manner.  Usually his/her eyes are wide open and wild with fear.  The child’s heart is racing and s/he may break out in a sweat and continue to cry or scream.  When the parent tries to wake up the child or console him/her, this usually makes the Sleep Terror worse or last longer.  The child thinks someone is attacking him/her and may start to flail the arms in resistance and defend himself.  When the child is in this intensified state of fear, s/he may jump up and try to run away, which could be dangerous.

If your child or adolescent is struggling with the symptoms of Sleep or Night Terrors or Nightmares, you can click the button "Parent Screen Your Child" at the top of this page to screen your child or teen for these problems and other common pediatric sleep disorders that can be related to Sleep Terrors / Night Terrors.  Sleep or Night Terrors appear to occur more frequently in children with Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS), which is a very harmful sleep disorder that needs to be corrected immediately.  This screening will give you information about what causes these problems, and intervention ideas to decrease or stop Sleep Terrors / Night Terrors and Nightmares and other related sleep disorders if your child manifests their symptoms. 

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