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Sleep Disorders: Controlling Night Terrors

If your child suffers from night terrors, it can be stressful and frightening for you, as well. Night terrors are scary life-like dreams from which it is very hard to wake. Often a child may cry out, ask for help, thrash, kick, and scream -- but cannot be comforted. Because he is so deep into the dream, he cannot hear the person trying to wake him, even though the child may look at you and seem to be awake.

The cause of night terrors isn't known. About 10% of children have them as a result of undergoing anesthesia for surgery. The terrors may last a couple of weeks after surgery.

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Here are some steps you can take to cope with night terrors:

  • Make your child's room safe to try to prevent him from being injured during an episode.
  • Eliminate all sources of sleep disturbance, such as caffeine, sugar, high-energy activities, and activities involving lit screens such as cell phone games before bed.
  • Maintain a consistent bedtime routine and wake-up time.

Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to help your child during the actual episode except to make sure he is safe. Just take comfort in the fact that the night terror is short-lived.

Medical Treatment for Night Terrors

No adequate treatment exists for night terrors. Management primarily consists of educating family members about the disorder and reassuring them that the episodes are not harmful.

In severe cases in which daily activities (school performance, peer or family relations) are affected, an antidepressant medication may be used as a temporary treatment.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on October 17, 2015

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