Infant Night Terrors


We wish to sleep like a baby. But sometimes infants face sleep disturbances by experiencing night terrors. Infant night terrors are uncommon and nothing to worry on it. Have a look on what infant night terrors are and why and how it happens.

Last Updated: 23 October 2020

Infant Night Terrors
Infant Night Terrors
What are Night terrors?

Night terrors are also called sleep terrors which happens in children during the ages of 3 to 12. They are different from nightmares. Night terrors are nothing but when a child cries and screams out in terror uncontrollably during a sleep. It is difficult to console the child during a night terror. These night terrors are frightening episodes and the good thing is that a child who experiences night terrors won’t remember anything the next morning. 

It is estimated that 1-6% of children experience night terrors and it usually diminishes when children reaches adulthood. Boys and girls are equally affected and they are not specific to any race or ethnicity.

What happens during a night terror?

There are two main types of sleep Rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and non REM sleep. Night terrors happen during the non REM stages of sleep. They tend to happen approximately 90 minutes after the child falls asleep, particularly when the infant shifts from deep to light stage of sleep. They are characterized by crying, screaming and fear during sleep. They usually last for a few minutes or for a maximum of 45 minutes. Children remain asleep during night terrors and after the incident they will continue deep sleep and will be unable to recall what happened the next day morning.

Nightmares happen during REM stages of sleep and a child usually recalls the incidents the next day.

Signs of night terrors

You may notice the following signs during infant night terrors:

  • Child suddenly sitting up
  • Upset or acting scared with eyes wide open
  • Crying uncontrollably
  • Sweating during episodes
  • Screaming or making noises of distress
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Having a terrified, confused, or glassy-eyed look
  • Thrashing and restlessness
  • Fail to recognize you
  • Trying to push you away when you try to hold them
 Causes of Night terror

The exact cause of night terrors is not known. A family history of sleepwalking and night terror may make the child susceptible to experience night terrors. It is established that overstimulation of the central nervous system can cause night terrors. The following factors could trigger infant night terrors.

  • Stressful life events
  • Sickness
  • Child being overtired
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Consumption of medicines that affect the Central nervous system
  • Consuming higher amounts of caffeine
  • Any recent anesthesia given for surgery
  • Breathing issues like apnea
  • Child placed in new sleeping environment 


How can I help my child?


Night terrors can be disturbing for parents and kids. During a night terror, don’t try to wake your child and console. This makes the situation even worse as they may become disoriented and confused. Wait patiently and your child will resume sleeping in few minutes. Ensure them that they are in a safe environment.

Try reducing the stress levels of your child. Make sure that she doesn’t become too tired.

Follow a bedtime schedule. Don’t allow to stay them awake for a long time as this may affect their sleeping pattern. Provide them a safe and comfortable environment for sleeping.

If the issue persists for prolonged time, consult a pediatrician and a sleep specialist. If they suspect any health issues, they may advice for EEG (Electroencephalogram- to measure brain activity) and polysomnography (to check breathing rates during sleep).

If needed, a sleep specialist may carry a sleep study and identify if there are any underlying medical conditions.


Infant night terrors are transient and there is nothing to panic, as they may diminish over a period of time.




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