What Are Night Terrors?
Night terrors (also known as sleep terrors) are episodes of screaming, intense fear and flailing while still asleep. Night terrors are often paired with sleepwalking.
Night terrors happen during deep non-REM sleep. Unlike nightmares (which occur during REM sleep), a night terror is not technically a dream, but more like a sudden reaction of fear that happens during the transition from one sleep phase to another.
Night terrors usually occur about 2 or 3 hours after a child falls asleep, when sleep transitions from the deepest stage of non-REM sleep to lighter REM sleep, a stage where dreams occur. Usually this transition is a smooth one. But rarely, a child becomes agitated and frightened — and that fear reaction is a night terror.
During a night terror, a child might suddenly sit upright in bed and shout out or scream in distress. The child’s breathing and heartbeat might be faster, he or she might sweat, thrash around, and act upset and scared. After a few minutes, or sometimes longer, a child simply calms down and returns to sleep.
Unlike nightmares, which kids often remember, kids won’t have any memory of a night terror the next day because they were in deep sleep when it happened — and there are no mental images to recall. Dealing with Night Terrors can be upsetting for both parents and the child.
An estimated 1% – 6% of children experience night terrors. Boys and girls are equally affected. Children of all races also seem to be affected equally. It is a disorder that is usually outgrown by adolescence.