Resource Center Night Terror Symptoms - How to Identify the Signs

Sometimes we hear from parents who are just starting to look into night terrors and need a little help navigating the basics: what night terrors are and how to identify them. If this applies to you, don’t feel too frustrated—we’re here to help. Here are some of the night terror symptoms to look out for:  

What night terrors look like

A child experiencing a night terror will be suddenly roused from deep sleep and appear extremely scared or upset. He/she could:

  • Yell or scream
  • Bolt upright in bed
  • Move around in bed, often uncontrollably or violently (similar to a seizure)
  • Appear agitated, with a rapid pulse
  • Be very difficult to wake up
  • Be impossible to comfort
  • Be confused if awoken
  • Get out of bed completely as if sleepwalking

When night terrors happen (and how long they last)

Night terrors usually happen during the first half of the night (usually 2-3 hours after a child falls asleep) and last anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour. They can occur nightly and can be chronic over years.

How night terrors are different from nightmares

Most parents who want to know how to identify a night terror also want to know how night terrors are different from nightmares. (In fact, it’s one of the most common questions we get.) Luckily, it’s fairly simple to tell a night terror from a nightmare. Children with nightmares can be awakened and brought out of the nightmare easily. They also usually remember some or all of the scary details. On the other hand, it is nearly impossible to calm a child down during a night terror, and they generally won’t remember the episode the next day. Plus, children who have night terrors are more likely to have troubles with sleepwalking or wetting the bed.

And finally...Why parents are the unspoken night terrors symptom

One symptom of night terrors that’s often overlooked is the effect on parents. A child’s night terror will disturb a parent’s sleep schedule and cause a lot more stress than dealing with a run-of-the-mill nightmare. So while children usually don’t remember night terrors and will seem fine the next day, parents are often left feeling exhausted and concerned. If you’re looking to confirm that your child is having night terrors, don’t forget that how you’re feeling may be its own kind of sign.  

Learning more about the characteristics and symptoms of night terrors is a great way to begin to help your child sleep peacefully—and it’s completely understandable if you have more questions. Continue reading for additional help with treatment options, sleep tips, and more.

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