How to Cope with Night Terrors

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How to Cope with Night Terrors - Holistic Squid If you’ve ever tried to console a child having night terrors, you know that it’s no laughing matter.

Though they can seem like very traumatic experiences for the child and can be a big source of concern for parents, understanding what night terrors are (and aren’t) will help the whole family cope with this common condition.

Night terrors usually last from 5 to 20 minutes, and the child may sit up in bed, shout, scream, sweat and thrash as if out of fear.  Her heartbeat may race and breathing might be faster.

After a while, she usually calms down and goes back to sleep.  If a child does wake after or during a night terror, she may seem inconsolable.  Since night terrors don’t involve dreams, the child won’t usually remember any scary images or understand what’s frightening or upsetting them.

Why do night terrors happen?

Although night terrors can be terrifying and confusing for parents, they’re usually nothing major to worry about; Night terrors are typically non-pathological occurrences for children.  They don’t usually indicate an underlying medical condition or mental disorder, and they’re typically nothing more than a disturbance in the sleep cycle.

Although there’s no underlying disease associated with night terrors, medications, stress, fatigue, and even teething are triggers parents may be able to identify.

Parents may mistake night terrors for a bad nightmare experience, but they are actually two different things.  Nightmares occur during the specific stage of sleep known as REM, the part of the sleep cycle where dreams occur.  Night terrors occur during the very deep, non-REM sleep stage.

There’s typically no dream at all involved in night terrors.  Sleep experts believe night terrors are actually a fear reaction that happens as children move from one sleep phase into another.

Some children sleep through night terrors without waking at all, even if their eyes are open. Unless they’re made aware of it, many children never know they’re experiencing night terrors.

What can I do for my child’s night terrors?

There isn’t a lot parents can do to curtail a night terror episode once it’s underway. Speaking calmly to your child from a slight distance may help.  If you try to comfort a child experiencing a night terror physically, you could make the situation worse by suddenly awakening and frightening her.

Keeping your child on a regular sleep schedule may help reduce the occurrence of night terrors.

My personal favorite solution for night terrors is a flower essence blend like this one. Flower essences work much in the same way as homeopathy. They are an energetic medicine, and as such, can influence healing, but they do not do harm in the body.

I use this remedy before bed, when frequent waking has been occurring – or even during a night terror, once my kid is calm enough to take the supplement with ease.

Has your child experienced these sleep disruptions?
What are your top tips on how to cope with night terrors?

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  1. Andrea says

    Both my daughters have night terrors. My older child has the laughing hysterically while thrashing around terror, the younger cries in horrible fear for about 20 minutes. We have them both on a regular sleep schedule and it helped tremendously!!

  2. Marisa says

    I had them, my sisters had them, and now my daughter has them. But it’s obvious that fatigue makes them worse. We try to stick to a regular bedtime. And when that still didn’t work, we were prescribed Lime Tree by our Chinese Medicine Doctor. That definitely seems to help when they pick up in regularity. It’s scary, but nice to know it’s not a big deal, and that the dreams aren’t the cause.

  3. Donika says

    My daughter had horrible night terrors from the time she was about 16 months old until she was 5. If I got to her right after the first scream, she would settle down and fall back to sleep within a half an hour, but if I didn’t get to her quickly, she would scream for HOURS. I’m talking 3 or 4 hours, poor little thing! As she got older, she continued to have sleep problems, nightmares, frequent waking, restless legs, etc, and now she is in her early 20’s and has told me that the night-terrors have returned. She doesn’t scream anymore, but wakes up, STANDING UP, covered in a cold sweat, and her heart is racing.

    • Robert says

      Hi Donika I know it’s been more than a year since you wrote this comment but hopefully you’ll get an email about it. I wanted to ask what your daughter has done to deal with her night terrors? I’m also in my early 20’s and I’ve been having them for several months now. I’ve tried everything but I still have them several times a week and they’re really messing up my life so I was looking for any advice you had. Thanks!

  4. Crystal says

    My little sister had night terrors that would last for hours sometimes. Every time that she would get back to sleep, they would start all over again. We found out that it was all due to allergies. She is allergic to nitrates. So if we had hotdogs for dinner, it would be a bad night. This article frustrates me because it was a very serious allergy that caused the problem and it was a very big deal. She remembers part of them. She says that we became part of the nightmare. She has allergies so bad now (MCS) that she is a prisoner in her own home. She can’t even read a newspaper because she’s allergic to the ink. I would do ALOT more research before I dismissed night terrors as ‘no big deal’.

    • Mary says

      Oh, Crystal, that’s just awful! She sounds like my friend Caroline Lunger who is the blogger at She got dubbed the Bubble Girl. :(

    • says

      Hi Crystal, thanks for sharing your sister’s experience. In most cases night terrors are not a sign of an underlying health condition, but it is certainly worth noting that they may be part of a bigger imbalance.

  5. Christine says

    My daughter had night terrors with the potty training. We both were stressed and I didn’t know what I was doing. She was diagnosed with ADD recently and with kids like that you can’t give the goldfish crackers as a reward there body doesn’t like it. She tantrumed a lot and I thought I needed to be firm and disciple her, but nothing helped til I stopped the orange colored crackers and reduced the sugar. She even had a seizure. My neighbors still say why can’t you control your daughter. I just laugh, control. God has everything in His hands!

  6. Dee says

    I have an elderly gentleman friend who is having hallucinations sort of or he has ghosts. I don’t know. He had some history of lung Cancer but is in remission. He wakes up in the middle of the night and finds people in his bedroom. He sees a lil black girl almost every night who sits beside him and watches him, he has had two policeman in his room and a woman who brushes her hair. He says they come in his bedroom door and out the bedroom window. I believe in an afterlife and spirits but what puzzles me is he also sees strange looking bugs. Would this be considered a form of night terrors my friends and I are concerned for him.

  7. Rhiannon says

    Hey, I was cured of my irrational fears as a child with flower remedies! I was about 8 at the time, and I think that decided my mind FOR SURE that I was going to heal. Soon, I’ll be beginning my Naturopathy and Herbalism course, before studying Energy Healing with the same lady who cured me. I am honoured to be her apprentice. (I’ve used Rescue Remedy to get through exams, and have already used herbs to treat my friends and family.)

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