Night Terrors

Manic Mommy explains what Night Terrors are and how they affected her family.

Mom Matters

Night Terrors

Facts about this strange phenomenon

-Stephanie Elliot

Night TerrorsFor me, the worst part about raising my children wasn’t the dirty diapers or the countless baby bottles I had to sterilize. It wasn’t the “newborns-don’t-sleep” stage that killed me. It was the night terrors that my oldest son suffered from between the ages of 3 to five years old.

With these night terrors, my son would wake up and sit in his bed and scream and cry. I would rush into his room and try to console him, but he would stare blankly, almost THROUGH me. It was as if he was still asleep and didn’t even know I was there. I would try to settle him back into his bed, reassure him, and tell him that everything was OK, but really, the only thing that worked was to wait out the session. They are excruciating to deal with. Fortunately, most of the time, the child remembers nothing about the episodes.

From the Night Terrors Resource Center:

During a night terror, which may last anywhere from five to twenty minutes, the person is still asleep, although the sleepers eyes may be open. When the subject does wake up, they usually have no recollection of the episode other than a sense of fear. This, however, is not always the case. Quite a few people interviewed can remember portions of the night terror, and some remember the whole thing.

I spoke with Dr. John Mayer to get more information on night terrors, and he explained that a night terror is actually a fear the child has. “Children lack the cognitive, social and language advancements that adults have obtained through years of experience and learning.” He said that children articulate their fears in ways we may view as irrational or unexplainable.

A night terror comes from a child trying to understand the unknown. Children are constantly learning, and everything about their world is new to them. When I asked Dr. Mayer about the causes of night terror, he said the child may be insecure because of his lack of knowledge and skills, and these fears emanate from these insecurities. He also stated that an insecure and chaotic household may exaggerate the child’s fears. Extra stimulation in the home does little to calm a child, that’s why it’s so important, especially at bedtime, to create a “peaceful, strong, consistent home environment to thrive.”

When my son would have these episodes, I would always try to wake him from the night terror but he would never “wake up” from them. Usually he would just stop, and go back to sleep as if nothing had happened. They left me rattled and upset, but the next day, my son would not show any signs of distress or indications that he had been disturbed through the night.

When I asked Dr. Mayer how to handle these stressful (for me, anyway) episodes, he said the parent should not panic or over-coddle, and that night terrors are preventable. The important things to do is to make sure your child feels protected and safe, that you continue to be “loving, yet firm and confident” and do not indulge his fears, but rather dismiss it. If your child recalls the night terrors, don’t “logic” the fear away by saying, “There are no monsters here – I just looked under your bed.” Instead, Dr. Mayer advises, you should acknowledge the fears but explain that you make sure your child is safe in your home.

Dr. Mayer suggests the best way to prevent night terrors is to teach your child HOW TO SLEEP. He has written a mini-manual on sleep in children that is downloadable for free on This manual helps teach a parent how to teach the child the BEST ways to sleep and to prevent night terrors, restless sleep, nightmares, etc.

While children may outgrow night terrors, the important thing to do from birth is get your child into great sleeping habits. Dr. Mayer also suggests, “Make sure your home and your relationship with your child exudes safety, love, comfort, and confidence.” Keeping free from conflict in the home and family is important. “Studies show that the more stressful, argumentative, chaotic your household is, the more the child will have these problems,” says Dr. Mayer.

Fast Facts about Night Terrors*:

  • Run in families.
  • Are not dangerous
  • Can last 10-20 minutes
  • Occur in stage 4 of the sleep cycle
  • Can happen at any age 1 hour – 100 years old

Dr. John Mayer, author of Family Fit (Coming this August from ISPA/NP2 Publishing) is also the featured author at – a mom website.

*Source: Night Terrors Resource Center

Stephanie Elliot is an associate editor at Betty, and she also answers your parenting questions at Just Another Manic Mommy. Visit her at or

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