How to Stop Night Terrors Now!

Toddler with tousled hair sleeping in a bedNight terrors can be terrible for children and their parents, but the good news for parents is that options do exist to stop night terrors! However, before these are explored, parents must decide whether attempts should be made to improve their child’s night terrors. Up to 1 in 5 children will have at least 1 night terror growing up, and for some of these kids, the night terrors will go away as quick as they came.

For other children, though, they can continue for years or even persist into adulthood. So how do parents decide if the night terrors need to be addressed? There is no absolute answer, but it should relate to how troubling the night terrors are to the family.

Some parents are very concerned about their children having night terrors even if they only occur one every two months, while others are concerned only if they happen every night. It’s up to the parents, but if the night terrors become bothersome, parents should seek out solutions.

Causes of Night Terrors

To understand the solutions for night terrors, it is first important to understand the causes of night terrors. The main cause is an interrupted, unhealthy deep sleep that occurs in children prone to getting night terrors. The cause of this is unknown, but overnight sleep studies performed in children with night terrors clearly show this pattern.

In addition to the underlying cause, though, there are certain factors that exacerbate night terrors, or make them worse. These factors are varied, but in general they are related to things that decrease sleep quantity or quality. For example, sleep deprivation, altered sleep schedules, and travel all seem to make night terrors worse.

Other factors that can make night terrors worse are severe snoring or sleep apnea (because the snoring events cause interrupted sleep) as well as bedwetting (possibly because of the subconscious sensation of a full bladder interrupts sleep).

How to Stop Night Terrors

When attempting to solve night terrors, there are many things that can be done to decrease the exacerbating factors that can lead to night terrors. These include ensuring your child gets adequate sleep and ensuring your child stays on a consistent sleep schedule. Also, treating sleep apnea or addressing bedwetting can help decrease the severity of night terrors.

However, none of these solutions get at the underlying cause of night terrors — unhealthy and interrupted deep sleep that leads up to the night terror. For this, scheduled awakenings have been proposed prior to night terrors to train children to get out of the unhealthy sleep. In clinical studies, this has led to a 90% reduction in night terrors.

However, many parents are not comfortable waking their child each night. The Lully Sleep Guardian* is an excellent option that gets children out of the unhealthy deep sleep that causes night terrors by using vibrations from an under-the-mattress pod. However, it does this without actually causing a full awakening from sleep.

Parents may suggest many other solutions, such as placing a bar of soap in a child’s bed each night or removing Red dye from a child’s diet. However, these are not backed by clinical studies and therefore we don’t know if they are better than letting children grow out of the night terrors on their own.

*Disclosure: Lully Sleep Guardian was co-founded by the author of this post.

 

Andy Rink MD

Andy Rink, MD is Co­founder and CMO of Lully, a company developing smart products to improve sleep. He completed the Stanford Biodesign fellowship, which is the premier medical device innovation training program in the world. At Stanford h​e developed a research interest in parasomnias during sleep. Along with Varun Boriah, he developed the first solution for night terrors. This technology became the basis for Lully.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of DrGreene.com. The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or DrGreene.com, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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  1. Ertugrul Nazli

    Dear Doctor,
    We tried the scheduled awaking.
    We tried to awake our kid 15 -30 minutes before the episode time.
    BUT! Altough we were so gentile, we triggered the episode as we tried to awake the kid.
    Question is how to apply this treatment?
    Because we experience the episode once we try to awake the kid.
    :( Please help us..
    Thanks..

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  2. Doreen Cohen

    My eldest daughter was under 2 when she had her first night terror, and it really scared both me and my husband. She cried non-stop and was so stricken and terrified, and we could not calm her down, that we went to the ER department. By the time we got there, she had settled. The night terrors happened approximately 4 times, where twice we waited and it was unrelenting and we went to the ER with her. She had never cried like that–not even when she cracked open her head and bled after falling on the fireplace!!! She had never since cried like that. It was like she was trapped in her own worse nightmare, and we could not wake her up. She kept looking around, but not really focusing on us, not settling down like one would expect after a nightmare.

    She is now 23 years old. But what you say makes sense: At age 6 she began developing terrible sleep apnea where she would not breath for 20 seconds or more. I would try without success to prop her up so her airway was patent. I attempted to obtain a finger probe oxygen saturation device from my work to monitor her saturation overnight, but the clinician from the sleep apnic clinic said not to bother–she had the same problem with her son and she did the same thing, and she was totally distressed to see his oxygen saturation drop into the 70s–not compatible with life. She informed me to have my daughter’s tonsils and adnoids removed. It turns out they were huge due to allergies, and were obstructing her airway.

    I think any child who gets night terrors, should have comprehensive sleep studies done.

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    • Doreen Cohen

      Oh, as an aside….

      You probably guessed I am a nurse. I had a patient just 19 years of age with new diagnoses of ventricular hypertrophy, I believe it was right sided in nature. On talking with his mother, it turns out he had significant sleep apnea which had gone untreated since childhood. His hypertrophy was diagnoses due to arrhythmias.

      Studies in children have shown sleep apnea can cause learning disabilities, as well as hypertension and cardiomegally. There are a host of other potential co-morbidities. If night terrors are a red flag to this problem, perhaps it is a blessing disguise where we can catch problems earlier.

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