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Everything You Want to Know About Night Terrors in Children

A Psychiatrist in Baltimore Breaks Down Your Biggest Questions About Night Terrors

Everything You Want to Know About Night Terrors in Children

A Psychiatrist in Baltimore Breaks Down Your Biggest Questions About Night Terrors

As a parent, you want to do everything in your power to make sure that your children are happy and healthy. That’s why when your child comes to you in the middle of the night after a nightmare, you do anything in your power to comfort him or her back to sleep. But what happens when it’s worse than a nightmare - a night terror - and your child cannot be calmed back to sleep?

Night terrors are a relatively common yet difficult to understand sleep disorder in children. As a parent, you’ve made it your duty to do what you can to help your child, which is why a leading psychiatrist in Baltimore is here to break down everything you need to know about night terrors in children. From gaining an understanding about night terrors to knowing when to get help, we have you covered.

What are Night Terrors?

A Psychiatrist in Baltimore Explains this Complex Sleep Disorder

sleeping toddler

Many people use the terms ‘nightmare’ and ‘night terror’ interchangeably despite the fact that they are two unique experiences. Night terrors are more than just a bad dream; they are intense episodes of crying, fear, kicking, screaming, and flailing during sleep that are typically not remembered by the child when he or she wakes up. These episodes of terror last anywhere from a few minutes to a half-hour in severe cases.

What mystifies people most about night terrors is the fact that the child has no memory of the experience when they wake up. Parents will often wake up wondering why their child is so frantic and is worried that something serious is occurring, but right after the episode the child will fall back asleep and carry on. Children who experience a nightmare will often remember the nightmare, or at the very least will remember having a bad dream or unpleasant thoughts during sleep the night before.

During night terrors, you will not only be able to see physical signs of terror, but your child’s heart rate will rise, breathing may become fast, and the child may begin to sweat, all of which are standard responses to stress. While night terrors seem extremely abnormal, they are actually relative common in children ages 3-12 with anywhere from 6-40% of children experiencing them, depending on the source of your statistic. But how exactly do these night terrors occur We’ll break that down next.

Why do Night Terrors Occur?

A Psychiatrist in Baltimore Helps Explain the Source of Night Terrors

little boy going to sleep

The immediate response of many parents when their child has a night terror is thinking that something must be terribly wrong. However, night terrors can stem from a variety of places, including stress, trauma, fever, sleep deprivation, medication, or a confounding sleep or breathing-related disorder. While these all seem somewhat random, they can cause similar physiological effects in the brain, like a misfiring of the ‘fight or flight response’ in the amygdala (a part of your child’s brain).

Night terrors are a parasomnia - or unfavorable disturbance or issue with sleep - that typically occur a little after 90 minutes from falling asleep. This occurs because your child is then close to reaching non-rapid eye movement (NREM), the deepest sleep stage. This is part of why your child is unable to remember the night terror; they are much too asleep to remember it! Normal dreams and nightmares occur during the REM cycle, which is a lighter, easier to awaken stage. However, brain activity related to the aforementioned stressors can occur in either REM or NREM sleep.

Can a Psychiatrist in Baltimore Treat Night Terrors?

While a Psychiatrist in Baltimore Can Treat Terrors, They Typically Do Not

Doctor with small child

Parents are typically extremely alarmed by a child’s night terrors at first. We don’t blame you; witnessing your child screaming and kicking in terror can be scary, especially when you are unable to wake them. However, it’s important to remember that night terrors, more often than not, are nothing to worry about. Night terrors are extremely common and as long as your child is not showing any other signs of issues other than the night terrors you likely have nothing to worry about.

It may be time to reach out to a doctor if your child’s night terrors include any of the following circumstances:

  • Your child appears abnormally tired the day after a night terror.
  • Your child walks or acts in ways that are a risk to his or her safety during a night terror.
  • The night terrors are dramatically increasing in frequency.
  • Your child may be experiencing night terrors as a result of stress or trauma.

The circumstances are typically the determinants of when your child should see a doctor regarding night terrors. The doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist in Baltimore who will gain a better understanding of the basis for your child’s night terrors and may recommend therapy or medication in extreme cases.


Think it may be time to seek the help you or your child deserves? Reach out to Psych Associates of Maryland - a leading psychiatrist in Baltimore - today to learn how we can help.

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