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 is a test to measure 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 the family 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.
Medications for Night Terrors
Although tricyclic antidepressants (such as imipramine) are rarely indicated for night terrors because they do not provide long-term help for the child, they may be used as a temporary treatment. Tricyclic antidepressants are usually only prescribed for severe symptoms in which the child’s waking behavior (for example, school performance or peer or family relations) is affected.
Next Steps & Follow-Up
Frequent follow-up care with your doctor to provide support and reassurance helps alleviate their anxieties.
Night Terror Prevention
If your child has night terrors, you can try to interrupt her sleep in order to prevent one.
- 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.
Outlook for Night Terrors
Night terror episodes are short-lived and usually occur over several weeks. Nearly all children outgrow night terrors by adolescence.