Many parents confuse night terrors for nightmares, but they are fundamentally different in a few key ways.

What Are Night Terrors?

Night terrors are episodes which typically last anywhere from five to thirty minutes, and generally occur within an hour of falling asleep. The child appears to be in a panic or experiencing a nightmare, but is usually able to fall asleep again quickly and isn’t aware of any scary thoughts or dreams. Sleep terrors typically peak during the preschool years, then gradually wane or may stop as abruptly as they started. These night terrors may occurs over several years, but typically go away with time.

Signs & symptoms of night terrors

A child who experiences a night terror may awaken in a panic, though they don’t know why. They may scream, sit up in bed, breathe quickly, give a glassy-eyed stare, or seem confused, disoriented, and incoherent.

What causes night terrors?

Though their exact cause is unknown, night terrors are believed to be a normal developmental experience for some children, and are unrelated to stress or anxiety during a child’s waking life.

Are night terrors dangerous?

Night terrors can be quite frightening for parents, who walk in to see their child looking like something out of a haunted Hollywood movie. But they are actually quite harmless for the child. Since kids do not remember these episodes, they’ll wake up the next morning no worse for the wear. Contrary to what some parents may have heard, night terrors are not a reason to suspect seizures or some other serious brain problem.