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Health Topics

Night Terrors

What are Night Terrors? 

Night terrors are a sleep disorder in which a person quickly awakens from sleep in a terrified state. The cause is unknown but night terrors are often triggered by fever, lack of sleep, or periods of emotional tension, stress, or conflict. Night terrors are like nightmares, except that nightmares usually occur during REM sleep and are most common in the early morning. Night terrors usually happen in the first half of the night. Also, night terrors are most common in preadolescent boys, though they are fairly common in children 3 to 5 years old.

Symptoms   

  • Sudden awakening from sleep
  • Persistent fear or terror that occurs at night
  • Screaming
  • Sweating
  • Confusion 
  • Rapid heart rate 
  • No recall of "bad dreams" or nightmares
  • Unable to fully wake up
  • Difficult to comfort

Diagnosis 

In many cases, no examination or testing is needed. If the night terror is severe or prolonged, the child may need a psychological evaluation.

Treatment   

In many cases, a child who has a night terror only needs comfort and reassurance. Psychotherapy or counseling may be appropriate in some cases. Benzodiazepine medications used at bedtime will often reduce night terrors; however, medication is not usually recommended to treat this disorder.

Treatment of Night Terrors at Hopkins Children’s

Night Terrors are diagnosed and treated by physicians and clinical staff at the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Sleep Center. For an evaluation at the sleep clinic at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, or for a sleep study at the sleep laboratory at the Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital, please call 410-955-2035.


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