Night Terrors


When to Seek Medical Care

Sleep disruption is a parent's most frequent concern during the first years of a child’s life. Half of all children develop a disrupted sleep pattern serious enough to warrant a visit to the pediatrician. During his or her evaluation, the doctor may also be able to exclude other possible disorders that might cause night terrors.

Exams and Tests for Night Terrors

Usually, a complete history and a physical exam are sufficient to diagnose night terrors.

If other disorders are suspected, additional tests may be useful to exclude them:

  • An electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures brain activity, may be performed if a seizure disorder is suspected.
  • Polysomnography (a combination of tests used to check for adequate breathing while asleep) may be done if a breathing disorder is suspected.
  • CT scans and MRIs are usually not necessary.

Home Remedies for Night Terrors

Parents might take the following precautions at home:

  • Make the child’s room safe to try to prevent the child from being injured during an episode.
  • Eliminate all sources of sleep disturbance.
  • Maintain a consistent bedtime routine and wake-up time.

Medical Treatment for Night Terrors

Unfortunately, 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 (for example, school performance or peer or family relations) are affected, tricyclic antidepressants (such as imipramine) may be used as a temporary treatment.

Next Steps & Follow-Up

If it helps to alleviate your child's anxiety - or yours - make an appointment to talk to his doctor.

Night Terror Prevention

If your child has night terrors, you can try to interrupt her sleep in order to prevent one. Here is how to do it:

  • First, note how many minutes the night terror occurs from your child’s bedtime.
  • Then, awaken your child 15 minutes before the expected night terror, and keep her awake and out of bed for five minutes. You may want to take your child to the bathroom to see if she will urinate.
  • Continue this routine for a week.