Night terrors in kids, also known as sleep terrors, are sometimes mistaken for nightmares. Both of these occurrences cause distress and disrupt sleep, but they are quite different. And although night terrors are less common than nightmares, they are not unusual – especially among young kids. But what exactly are night terrors? Let’s take a look: 

What are night terrors? 

A night terror is a kind of sleep disruption that is similar to a nightmare but typically much more dramatic. Terrors can be very alarming for parents who witness them, but they’re not usually cause for concern or a symptom of a deeper medical issue. 

How to identify night terrors 

When kids experience night terrors, they may look like they’re in a panic. Some of the signs include: 

  • A racing heart 
  • Heavy and fast breathing 
  • Sweating 

Some kids may also look like they’re awake. Their eyes may be open or they may be crying. Some may even sit up or get out of bed. But during night terrors, kids are really asleep, so they won’t respond to any comfort. 

Night terrors can happen suddenly and most often start with a cry or scream. Usually, they settle down in 10 to 15 minutes, but sometimes they can last a bit longer than this. Luckily, night terrors don’t typically happen more than once a night. 

What can cause night terrors?

Sometimes terrors have no apparent cause. However, experts believe some aspects may play a role, including: 

  • Being overtired or stressed
  • Starting a new medicine
  • Sleeping in a new environment 
  • Having too much caffeine before bed

How to help your child deal  

Night terrors can be very upsetting for anyone who witnesses them. If it happens to your child, you may also feel helpless. The best way to handle night terrors is to wait it out and make sure your child doesn’t hurt themselves in any way. Kids will usually settle down and return to sleep in just a few minutes. It’s also best not to try to wake your child during a night terror. This may only disorient and confuse your child, and they may take even longer to settle down.

Growing out of them 

Many kids experience nightmares and night terrors at different ages but, luckily, most kids grow out of them. They also don’t cause any psychological harm or trauma in the long term. However, if you are concerned about the cause of nightmares or night terrors, you can consult a child psychologist to discuss your concerns