Everything You Need To Know About Night Terrors

A few months ago my husband and I realized that our son was experiencing night terrors, something that we aren’t familiar with ourselves. We tried waking him up and calming him down but as soon as he would fall back to sleep, the tossing, turning, and crying would start all over again. So I realized I needed to learn more about what was going on and I did what all moms do these days, I turned to my good friend Google.

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It turns out that only 1 – 6% of children experience night terrors and they seem to effect boys and girls equally. Children between the ages of 3 and 12 are most effected by night terrors and the episodes usually peak around 3.5 years old. Night terrors generally start 90 minutes after a child falls asleep. I also found that dealing with night terrors is actually very simple and I am going to break the information down for you right now.

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The Facts About Night Terrors

Night terrors are NOT nightmares.

For me to best explain the biggest difference between night terrors and nightmares, I must first explain the stages of sleep. There are two different categories of sleep; REM and non-REM.

REM is the last stage of sleep. During REM, your brain waves look similar to when you are awake and REM is when your brain starts to dream or have nightmares. Non-REM has 4 different stages where you brain slowly calms down and your brain waves become very slow.

Like I said, nightmares happen in REM where it is normal to have dreams, but night terrors happen between stage 3 and 4 where it is not normal to have dreams. For this reason, it is best to leave children who are having night terrors completely alone because you want them to pass through stage 4 to REM as quickly as possible. Waking or disturbing the sleeping child at all will delay the transition to REM.

Kids will not remember what happened in the morning.

Don’t worry! Night terrors are not going to damage your child, they won’t even remember what the terror was about. If they can recall what happened, then you know it more than likely wasn’t a night terror, it was only a night mare.

You cannot console your child during an episode.

Like I mentioned in my first point, you cannot console a child who is having a night terror because that will prolong the episode. Waking the child up, will not stop the episode. Once the child falls back to sleep and reaches stage 3 of sleep again, the episode will continue. So, like I already said, the best thing to do for a child who is experiencing night terrors is to leave them alone so he or she can transition from stage 4 of sleep to REM as quickly as possible.

There are several theories on what causes night terrors.

There are a few different theories surrounding night terrors but none of them believe it has to do with scary images or frighting experiences the child had during the day. Something like that could possibly induce a nightmare but not a night terror. So don’t worry, it is nothing you did wrong!

Some doctors believe over exhaustion is a major cause of night terrors and I tend to agree. When my son misses a nap or goes to bed late, he is much more likely to experience an episode. Other possible triggers include, caffeine, stressful life events, medication, and fever. It is also believed that night terrors are hereditary so ask your family members if they have experience with this.

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In conclusion, the most important point to take away is also going to be the hardest on the mommies, there isn’t anything you can do to help. I know, its heartbreaking. Just remember that being strong and letting your child work through the night terror without disruption, is actually helping your kiddo the best way you can help.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.


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Jessica is a follower of Jesus, a wife, and a mommy. A family life expert who writes about her personal life, parenting adventures, and everything in-between.


  1. In my long list of babysitting jobs over the years I’ve witnessed this on few accounts as well! It started to get me interested and randomly through doing other research on general health, specifically diet, it led me to a theory that milk can be responsible for night terrors. This info was presented to me in a documentary years ago and I’m not sure which one but I figure there’s probably lots of information out there on it. Through my own observation on young children I lived with and nannied for for sometime I definitely noticed a difference when the kids would have milk right before bed. From what I know of dairy, that being that it is produced by the mucous glands and controlled by a cows hormonal system it affects both of those in anyone consuming it….which you could see the relation between sleep patterns and hormonal changes then as they are directly related! Not sure if you guys do dairy or not…..and this of course could just be a theory like so many others! But I couldn’t help but share my thoughts!

  2. two of my kids struggle with them and the biggest help I accidentally stumbled on was deep sleepy breathing and yawning close to their bodies. it usually helps signal them to yawn as well and usually by the second or third yawn they will flip back into sleep again. i hate night terrors but this has truly helped us!

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