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Sleep Disorders: Night Terrors

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Night terrors in children are distinctly different from the much more common nightmares. Night terror symptoms are frequent and recurrent episodes of intense crying and fear during sleep, with difficulty in arousing the child.

Night terrors typically occur in children aged 3 to 12 years.

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Who Gets Night Terrors?

An estimated 1% to 6% of children experience night terrors. The disorder usually resolves during adolescence.

What Causes Night Terrors?

Night terrors may be caused by:

What Are the Symptoms of Night Terrors?

In addition to frequent, recurrent episodes of intense crying and fear during sleep, with difficulty arousing the child, children with night terrors may also experience:

Unlike nightmares, most children do not recall a dream after a night terror episode, and they usually do not remember the episode the next morning.

What Happens During the Night Terror?

A typical night terror episode usually begins approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep. The child sits up in bed and screams. While appearing to be awake, the child is confused, disoriented, and unresponsive to stimuli. The child also seems to be unaware of the parents' presence and usually does not talk. The child may thrash around in bed and does not respond to comforting by the parents.

Most episodes last only a few minutes, but they may last up to 30 minutes before the child relaxes and returns to normal sleep.

Since the child has a disturbed sleep, he or she may appear tired the next day and also may have decreased attention span. Treatment and counseling for night terrors should be managed by a physician.

WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth

Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on May 07, 2014
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