What are Night Terrors?


What are "night terrors" and why do children get them?
Grace Montenegro - Fremont, California

Dr. Greene's Answer

Within fifteen minutes of your daughter’s falling asleep, she will probably enter her deepest sleep of the night. This period of slow wave sleep, or deep non-REM sleep, will typically last from forty-five to seventy-five minutes. At this time, most children will transition to a lighter sleep stage or will wake briefly before returning to sleep. Some children, however, get stuck — unable to completely emerge from slow wave sleep. Caught between stages, these children experience a period of partial arousal.

Partial arousal states are classified in three categories: 1) sleep walking, 2) confusional arousal, and 3) true sleep terrors. These are closely related phenomena that are all part of the same spectrum of behavior.

When most people (including the popular press and popular parenting literature) speak of sleep terrors, they are generally referring to what are called confusional arousals by most pediatric sleep experts (Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine in the Child, by Ferber and Kryger). Confusional arousals are quite common, taking place in as many as 15% of toddler and pre-school children. They typically occur in the first third of the night on nights when the child is over-tired, or when the sleep-wake schedule has been irregular for several days.

A confusional arousal begins with the child moaning and moving about. It progresses quickly to the child crying out and thrashing wildly. The eyes may be open or closed, and perspiration is common. The child will look confused, upset, or even “possessed” (a description volunteered by many parents). Even if the child does call out her parents’ names, she will not recognize them. She will appear to look right through them, unable to see them. Parental attempts to comfort the child by holding or cuddling tend to prolong the situation. Typically a confusional arousal will last for about ten minutes, although it may be as short as one minute, and it is not unusual for the episode to last for a seemingly eternal forty minutes.

During these frightening episodes, the child is not dreaming and typically will have no memory of the event afterwards (unlike a nightmare). If any memory persists, it will be a vague feeling of being chased, or of being trapped. The event itself seems to be a storm of neural emissions in which the child experiences an intense flight or fight sensation. A child usually settles back to quiet sleep without difficulty.

These are very different from nightmares. Nightmares are quite common, occurring in about 60% of children in the preschool years (Pediatrics in Review, March 1996). You won’t become aware of your child’s nightmares until after she awakens and tells you about them. They are scary dreams that usually occur during the second half of the night, when dreaming is most concentrated. A child may be fearful following a nightmare, but will recognize you and be reassured by your presence. She may have trouble falling back asleep, though, because of her vivid memory of the scary dream.

True sleep terrors are a more intense form of partial arousal. They are considerably less common than confusional arousals, and are seldom described in popular parenting literature. True sleep terrors are primarily a phenomenon of adolescence. They occur in less than 1% of the population. These bizarre episodes begin with the child suddenly sitting bolt upright with the eyes bulging wide-open, and emitting a blood-curdling scream. The child is drenched in sweat with a look of abject terror on his or her face. The child will leap out of bed, heart pounding, and run blindly from an unseen threat, breaking windows and furniture that block the way. Thus true sleep terrors can be quite dangerous, in that injury during these episodes is not unusual. Thankfully they are much shorter in duration than the more common confusional arousals of the pre-school period.

The tendency toward sleepwalking, confusional arousals, and true sleep terrors often runs in families. The events are often triggered by sleep deprivation or by the sleep schedule’s shifting irregularly over the preceding few days. A coincidentally timed external stimulus, such as moving a blanket or making a loud noise, can also trigger a partial arousal (which again shows that the event is a sudden neural storm rather than a result of a complicated dream).

Interestingly, a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics in January 2003, showed that children who have recurrent partial arousal states may also have other sleep disorders (including sleep disordered breathing and restless leg syndrome) that may benefit from a physician’s care.

Treatment usually involves trying to avoid letting the child get over-tired, and trying to keep the wake/sleep schedule as regular as possible. When an event does occur, do not try to wake the child — not because it is dangerous, but because it will tend to prolong the event. It is generally best not to hold or restrain the child, since her subjective experience is one of being held or restrained; she would likely arch her back and struggle all the more. Instead, try to relax and to verbally comfort the child if possible. Speak slowly, soothingly, and repetitively. Turning on the lights may also be calming. Protect your child from injury by moving furniture and standing between him or her and windows. In most cases the event will be over in a matter of minutes. True night terrors, or bothersome confusional arousals, can also be treated with medications, hypnotherapy, or with other types of relaxation training.

Recently, my youngest son was having a confusional arousal, and his mother observed that these events are most common at the same ages that children are becoming aware of the bladder feeling full during sleep. Perhaps some of these kids just need to go to the bathroom? We stood him in front of the toilet, and he urinated, still not awake. The episode faded abruptly, and he returned to sleep. The calm was dramatic.

Was this a coincidence? Or might this be a revolutionary new help for parents whose kids have these frightening episodes? A number of readers have tried this approach. Most said it worked wonders; a few said it had no effect. If you try it, let me know the results, either way. Together we can learn more about the wonder and mystery of sleep in children. I have sat with my children through confusional arousals, and know how powerfully these episodes tug at a parent’s heart. Just understanding what they are (normal childhood sleep phenomena that children outgrow — not a sign of maladjustment or the result of bad parenting) helps tremendously.

Last medical review on: February 18, 2012
About the Author
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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Recent Comments

I don’t know if my 3 yr old child just had a confusal arousal, or what… I had to Google it straight away cause it was so scary to me.. My husband is away for work and I’m alone, I’m still crying.. He suddenly woke up screaming so much, like he was angry at something… I asked him if he wants water or if his stomach hurts and he did answer me “NO!!!!” and continues crying and screaming so so so much… I tried to take him out of bed he wouldn’t let me touch him at first pushing my hands off him… Then I just hugged him till and he resisted so much but then he went back to sleep… Is this the confusal arousal? Can they respond to my questions while having the episode?

Hi Raiya,

These episodes can be so disturbing for parents. I’m sorry you’re going through this — especially with your husband out of town.

What you describe sounds a lot like an episode of confusional arousal. Did he remember it in the morning? Typically with confusional arousal, they do not remember it at all the next day.

3 years old is the prime time for these episodes. He may grow out of them, but in the meantime, typically it doesn’t help to ask questions or try to touch him. Often that just makes the episode worse. You can try taking him to the toilet. For many kids, that does the trick.

I hope that helps,
Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

My daughter kicks and screams during this episodes or goes so stiff we can’t sit her on the toilet. It seems she has restless legs syndrome and she is a light sleeper. When this episodes happen she kicks and screams, hits her legs, wants nothing to do with any of us, can’t be comforted, all we do is keep her from injuring herself with her kicking and arching. We have yet to see a pattern in regards to overtired or extra activity.
Usually She’s asleep by 7, wakes by 11pm to go potty without a problem. There must be something triggering the confusion all arousals., our guess, over tired (late nights) and/or extra activity and restless legs.
Courage parents!

My son started having these episodes where he would scream and cry arch his back run through the house about a yr ago , in the last few months we figured out that he has these events when hes overly exhausted from physical activity, especially when he doesnt take a nap, talk about freaking scary!!! The first time it happened we took him to emergency room. He was completely fine, of course. Then we both started blaming ourselves for his actions, Its very comforting to no that hes suffering from these arousal events, and not anything else.

My Grandson stays with us every other week, so we can spend some QT with him, since our daughter stays with her in-laws. We had some issues but I figured everything worked out..
He naps once a day About 1-2 or maybe 3 hours, he eats good (less bottles), he sleeps in his crib, he sleeps in his own room & sleeps throughout the night, occasionally wake up for a bottle. He barely cry’s when his parent drops him off.
All of sudden, according to my daughter – the baby wakes up crying but screaming & it’s hard to calm him down when they put to sleep; when they drop him off now, he screams/cry like he dsnt know us. It breaks my heart but he calms down, After his parent leave (like 1-5 mins). I told them to say their goodbyes and go because it’s so hard to calm him down, if they don’t leave right away. He dsnt listen to us when his parents are around. If he falls (not hard) he cry’s like if someone hit him & his parents pick him up To comfort him. But when are not around & he falls, he gets up like nothing happen. My daughter and her hubby has been here serval times while he was napping & when he wakes up – he calls our name, no crying/screaming involved. When it’s time to eat because he sits in his high chair but when we try to put him in it when his parents are around – he yells/cry/scream. As soon
As they pick up The baby to take him home – they carry him & don’t put him down till they leave. He hits them and he throws himself on the floor if they don’t give him What he wants. It’s hard to give advance because she is my step daughter and I don’t want to walk over her toes. I would giver her a couple of advance:
1 – sit him down and eat – have his own food and don’t let him off till he finish his food.
2 – stop running to him when he cry’s – he needs to figure it out himself
3 – don’t allow the baby to run the show – you’re the parents
4 – stop saying, when they are picking him up & he dsnt listen, “ If you don’t listen – we are leaving you here.”
How can relate this to them
Without stepping over their toes.

Plz. Help


Being a grandparent can be tough. Being a step-grandparent is even tougher. Did your parents or parent inlaws give you advice? What worked for you? What made it easy for you to take advice from other parents?

Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

My 3 year old daughter has night terrors. ( I think ) and she woke up screaming last night and she arched her back and whipped her head back and hit it against the crib and then again on the wall so i had to stand next to her for over an hour worrying she might thrust her head into something. And NOTHING works to calm her. I just hope that it is night terrors and that i found the cause so i can find a solution. Great article!

For my daughters 8th birthday, we invited several of her friends to our home for a sleepover. They made pallets in the living room & we all fell asleep watching a movie. Around 2:30AM, this little girl sat up & screamed the most terrifying scream that I’ve ever heard. She then started speaking directly to someone in a completely different voice, she was begging & pleading with them to leave her alone. Talking in full sentences, she was trembling and moving her arms as if she was pushing someone away. I was terrified! I started tossing throw pillows from the sofa onto my daughter, in hopes of waking her up! All of a sudden, she jumped up and ran down the hallway full speed into my oldest daughters bedroom. I called her repeatedly, no answer! I heard her start walking back towards the living room so I pretended to be asleep. She came directly towards me, reaching her arms out for me & speaking in the scariest sounding voice. I had two small pups asleep on the sofa with me & they were terrified as well. When she extended her arms out & started reaching for me, they nipped at her out of fear. It never phased her. She started walking from room to room, crying out in fear but she was clearly not aware or awake. She finally crawled up on the other end of the sofa & curled up, she was trembling so hard that it was shaking the sofa. I was crying and praying at this point, afraid of trying to calm her. None of the other children ever woke up & this behavior went on for hours! I laid there terrified until the sun came up. She woke up shortly after & appeared to be completely fine. She was happy and wide awake, even though she didn’t rest at all. I was traumatized, I couldn’t wait for her parents to get there! When her dad arrived I tried to explain what happened but before I could finish, her older brother stated that is a nightly occurrence. The dad apologized for not warning me. He said they have had to secure the entire house for safety issues & installed locks to prevent her from leaving the home. I suggested that they visit her doctor to request a sleep study, see a psychiatrist, or even call their pastor. Lol! Needless to say, she only comes over during the daytime now. I’m not certain if this type of behavior would be called a night terror but she definitely has some type of sleep disorder.

I am so happy to have found this article tonight. For the past two nights, my 3 year old daughter has woken in a panic about 2 hours after going to bed. She is difficult to wake, and inconsolable. When my husband picks her up, she urinates all over him (and the floor). Immediately after emptying her bladder, she calms. These are the first “accidents” she has ever had.

Hi Laura,

Thanks so much for your response. We love to hear from readers!

Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

my 2 years old son every time he wakes up (from a nap of in the morning) crying like crazy. he still has his eyes closed and cries for a very long time and there is little I can do to distract him. He usually cries for his mom and doesn’t calm down with me (the dad). This is something new that he was not doing before as a baby. He has no problem staying with me alone for the rest of the day, although he is much more attached to his mom. Is there anything I can do to calm him down when he wakes up and cries inconsolably?

This has happened twice to my 5-year-old. Both times he ended up peeing and he was fine.

Hi Brittany,

Thanks so much for letting us know about your experience. It seems this is indeed the case for many, but not all kids.

Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

My nephew is only 9 months old, he has these random days where he wil be sleeping and all of a sudden screams to a point where he cant catch his breath. His eyes will be open but his body, stiff and still crying. He doesnt respond to anyone around him. We coddle him, talk to him, turn his music on, talk about the dog and some days these things wake him up other days he’ll be at it for 5-10mins. Im worried about it, considering his age. I have been tryi g to keep track of what the reasons might be but, its so difficult.

My five year old daughter is experiencing confusion arousal for about 3 weeks now. She is waking up crying feeling so scared that she’s afraid of sizes of objects that they are so big and so small. At first I thought it might be because of her watching videos utube on iPad but I stopped that and she is still feeling the same but with less anxiety. It lasts for ten minutes then she sleeps after I comfort her. Sometimes she tries to block the sight with her hands as if she can’t look at things. Why? Any tips to understand the reasons is it normal

My five and a half year old has been having confusional arousals at least five nights a week for over three years, since he was potty trained. Sometimes having him go to the bathroom helps. Sometimes it doesn’t. Usually once he has gone to the bathroom he calms down within about five minutes and goes back to sleep. The nights where going to the bathroom doesn’t work tend to resemble night terrors more. I wish I knew what age he would grow out of these at.

Hi Christine,

How tough! It might be time to talk to a pediatric sleep specialist. Or can ask your pediatrician for a recommendation. Or you can usually find one in your area by calling a nearby Children’s Hospital and asking to be connected to the department that handles sleep studies.

I hope that helps.
Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

I have a 2 year old daughter cries when I’m watching tv, or I’m in bed or I go outside to the front yard. She does the same with the mother of my child. She cries during the nights. And wants to be constantly in arms. I’m just worried because she started with this two weeks ago. Any advice? Please. Should I take her to the doctor?


It is not unusual for children at this age to have separation anxiety. Dr. Greene has written extensively about separation anxiety. The good news is kids do grow out of this stage. You can find more here.

I hope that helps.
Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

My 6.5 year old has been waking up about 1 hour and 30 minutes after bedtime (she wakes at 9pm) with these night terrors for 4 months. I went in her room at 8:50 every night for a week and she stopped having the terrors. A month later and it started again. I had also heard the recommendation to take her to the bathroom. Afterwards she goes straight to sleep. I’d love to hear any tips from others.

It’s heart wrenching to watch and not to mention we tussle half the night and we are ALLL tired, as I refuse to leave her alone. I “coddle” her. It’s the only thing that makes sense at the time. Looks like they will outgrow. 🤞🏼 Seems She has no recollection. (Besides heavy breathing) love and prayer. No one wants their baby going through anything traumatic 😞💕🙏🏼

My 4 1/2 year old son has had a number of these. He will wake up screaming, but not be fully aware of his surroundings. He will become very distressed. The first few times he then wet himself. I was concerned it may be seizure activity as our daughter suffers with epilepsy but have noticed that he needs a wee 100% of the time. As soon as he has emptied his bladder he goes back to sleep. Definitely think that is the cause of them!

For the past 2 years, I believe my 5yr old son has been having night terrors on an almost regular basis.

Regardless if its during night time ir nap time, and with no recognizable trigger, he will wake up hysterical crying, and even get out of bed, and pace around a lot. He kind of acknowledges me during this time by coming to me on his own fir brief comfort before continuing his pacing and crying.

I do believe that it is partially due to his bladder being full, since after a while he will pull down his pants and try to pee, even when not in a bathroom. He never seems to recognize where he is while all this happens. I usually end up either grabbing his hand and taking him to the potty, or picking him up and carrying him. Sometimes I even have to direct him to where the potty is in the bathroom, or he will pee on anything.

Shortly after peeing though, he calms down and either goes back to sleep or just snuggles with me as if just waking up. He also never remembers what happens during these times.

I just wish I knew of a way to help him better too…

Have you found any help with this my 5 year old is going thru this same thing he peed all over his room floor but wasn’t aware of what was going on around him he flipped his room light on and I got up and he was already peeing

Hello, presently my son is having night terrors and sleep walking. I do as you suggest, passing next to him and repeating a soothing Mommy is here and it’s ok. He seems to fade to sleep slowly, it takes him roughly fourty-five minutes to fall asleep. I’ve yet to try having him go to the bathroom, I will try this and let you know the outcome. Thank you for your assistance.

My son is 2 and a half and has had these episodes 3 times since he was born, the last one was tonight.
He gets restless and calls for me ( this time. Before he was too small to actually talk) and when I go to him he will not let me touch him. He cries, kicks his legs, tries to get as far away from everyone as he possibly can and if I try to pick him up he fights me and tells me he wants to go to bed.
In the end I just sat near him and repeatedly told him I was there and it’s ok. After about half an hour he went back to sleep.
He’s not potty trained so not sure how that could be related.
Any suggestions?

Hi, I’m 20 years old , and I have a 3 month old baby. The other night I was asleep and I woke up rolling around the bed screaming , my boyfriend had to calm me down, I’ve never experienced anything like this before , I woke up panicked and shaking, my heart was beating so fast, I would just like to know the cause for this and if I should see someone about it

My 3rd grade daughter walked while asleep out of our home and to the street in the middle of the night (2am). She awoke on her own while outside and couldn’t get back in. Eventually a neighbor heard her screaming. We (her parents) were sound asleep inside. She was terrified; we were in shock. Ever since she’s asked me to sleep by her side to feel safe. It’s been 6 months and we need to break this and get back to normalcy. Advice? She hasn’t been sleep walking since and the one event was after a big overseas trip and she was very overtired.

Dear Advice Needed,

Here’s my suggestion — Try installing “child-safety locks” on all your doors at a level above your daughter’s reach. Show her the locks and let her watch you lock them each night before bed. Tell her she couldn’t unlock these locks in her sleep, so she’s safe. Also, install alarms on all your exterior doors that alert you when they are opened. This can be annoying during the day, but they will serve as a safeguard. Even if she was able to move a chair to the door, figure out how to unlock the child-safety locks, and escape — all while staying asleep — you would know.

Once she feels safe, you can begin slowly moving away from her. The first night, sleep in the same room, but a few feet between you. The next night, you can move to outside her door. Then down the hallway and finally into your own room.

I hope that helps.

Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

My 5yo daughter has had night terrors since starting school, always when she’s too tired and seems when she’s has to pee at night. We take her to the bathroom and it 98% of the time stops the terror and calms her. However the last two weeks during the day she has been crying randomly saying “I want mommy” just the same as during the terrors. I ask her why she’s crying and she says “I don’t know” I reassure her, but it almost seems like PTSD of the night terror? I don’t know…thoughts anyone??

I have had night terrors since I was a young kid. I am 38 years old. I still have them. I used to get them like once to twice a week. I get them every night now. I have injured myself during the terrors. Recently I jumped out of bed I’m not sure what was going on I felt scared anyway I jumped real fast right out of bed and somehow I fall and hit my head on the wall and broken my toe. My husband said I was screaming. Help and stop hurting me. Just 2 nights ago I’m not sure what was going on but I fall and hurt my self again during my sleep. Last night I woke up 3 times screaming and my husband was calling my name because I had dug my nails and into his back. I have hit, scratched , cried during my terrors. My doctor just put me in a new medication today for it. I have a hard time going to sleep. I’m praying this will help me.

Dear WTBU,

How hard this must be. I am so sorry.

This does not sound like the night terrors children experience.

Have you seen an adult sleep doctor?

Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

I am now 47 but have a strong memory of incidents such as these in my own childhood. At around the age of 3, I used to get up and run round and round the lounge in circles crying. I remember the feeling of being incredibly scared and trying to run away. I even felt scared of my parents. I also remember feeling trapped. My parents tell me that they didn’t understand it but learned that they couldn’t comfort me and that I wasn’t properly awake and they just had to ride it out until it passed. It is good to hear that I was not abnormal and that this was probably caused by big changes in my life at the time, perhaps toilet training. Many children start nursery/ play school around this age too. Perhaps this could be a trigger for some children?

My 6 year old daughter has just had her second confusional arousal episode last night (screems, violent words, seemed to be aware and said she wanted to kill me, her mum, and kill the whole family… like possessed). she is an otherwise adorable loving little girl (4th child). It was definitely triggered by the fact I lifted her to the potty (like most nights around 11pm) to prevent her wetting her bed. I have a question though: for the last 6 months, she has been saying that she is a fairy and that fairies do not poop. We have told her number of times that of course, everyone needs to poop, even fairies, but she is totally stuck on that one. I was wondering if it could be the same with poop retention. Have night frights been correlated to that one?

Great observation and I don’t know the answer to that one. I bet it could be, though.

What are you doing to help this little fairy stay regular? Is there a timing link between when she’s last pooped and the confusional arousal?

I’d love to hear how this turns out!

Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

I had them as a child I also would sleepwalk
I could feel them coming on, I felt my teeth feeling weird I felt terribly scared and frightened for no apparent reason
I had no control of these feeling and would try to talk myself out of them as they slowly started
I would scream and cry hysterically my mind wasn’t in control or understanding and that was what scares you the most
They went away and now 45 I had recently been experiencing them again

Hi I am 63 now and when I was a real young child I had them on a regular basis. My mother would always try to comfort me. After a while it would dissipate. It was like having a panic attack in my sleep. I called it the black hole. I still have those feelings every now and then but I’m not asleep. Still looking for answers.

Our 4 1/2 year old little girl experiences these episodes. At first they happened more frequently, and I don’t even remember what made us make the connection when she was having these night terrors but we realized it was because she had to urinate. At first it was happening 3-4 times a week, she would “wake up” crying, bawling, inconsolable, not talking, not responding to us at all. Once we made the connection about urinating we would sit her on the potty, she would go (still completely unaware). Once she is done she settles down and goes right back to sleep. She has no memory of any of it the next morning.
These episodes happen less frequently, maybe 1-2 times per week now, and now that we know how to fix it life and sleep has gotten much easier for everyone!

My 3 year old wakes screaming, kicking, completely inconsolable. She will lash out if you talk to her or touch her. Eyes closed, hysterically crying, and screaming. My husband or I will pick her up, carry her to the bathroom, put her on the toilet, tell her to go. She does every. single. time. When she is finished we carry her back to bed, she is now calm, and hugs us, sometimes opens her eyes and will answer a question.
When this started we were terrified something was really wrong. Then after what seemed like forever we figured out the connection. Had no idea this was a thing and others experience this as well!

I was very glad to read this article and the comments from readers linking night terrors to urination. It started when my daughter was 3 year old and after 3 years now I am now sure its linked to bladder 90% of the time and stressed day 10% of the time. Whenever my daughter is going through them I try to persuade her to urinate and that ends the episode. I am so relieved to read the same observation from other parents too.

Dr Greene, You should know that children have night terror’s also when their mother marries a very violent man who is also a drunk. He beats her mother up on a daily basis. And verbally abuses the children. I had horrible dreams , nightmare’s ect. But you failed to mention bad parents. When we were used to a wonderful peaceful life. Until this devil married mom. It was horrible. She put him 1st. He never worked. Yes as the oldest child, I was his supply and his scape goat. She married this man in the 5o’s. He fooled all of us. But he stayed until he was in his late 80’s. He died. But this is another reason for a Childs night terror’s.


I am so sorry for what you’ve experienced. This truly sounds terrifying.

Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

My son is 4 years old and the event he just experienced is identical to the description I read of confusional arousal. I read this after he was back asleep but about 5-10 minutes into it he told me he had to pee, and did. And very shortly after he was very sleepy and back to bed. This was terrifying for me but reading this really did help.

My son is 4 years old, he just had his second night terror ever and indeed its terrifying for the parents. I’ve read about them through and through and know it’s normal but it doesn’t make it any easier. The first one lasted about 30 minutes, months later this one lasted 20 minutes. For the first 15 minutes I could not of course get through to him at all. While he laid there screaming and thrashing he screamed he had to pee, then jumped out of bed squirming like he was about to pee his pants. I asked him all the quesrions, can I take you to the bathroom, yes. Can I turn on the light, yes. He peed, and abruptly he calmed right down. I asked him if I could pick him up and laid him down and right back to sleep he went. I read your article and wanted to say this time the urinating and turning on of light helped quickly end the situation. Thank you for the read!!

I just started to notice this from my 2 yr old last night. She had 3 episodes of these confusional state last night. I read from the comments that it is mostly related to children needing to go pee. Can you please tell me how to deal w/ this when my 2 yr old is not potty trained yet. Thank you.

My daughter is 6. I am so unclear as to what is going on with her. Night terrors or panic disorder…either way I’m scared to death. This is night two (this round) of sitting upright in bed yelling “I’m hot, I’m hot!”, or “I’m dizzy, I’m dizzy”! Throughout the night she has awakened kicking her feet violently and then sits up. She is so upset, she vomits. Sometimes I feel she’s asleep and it’s terrors and then another moment it appears differently, like she is aware. The cycle has started both nights at 1:30am and last on and off till sunrise. I’m exhausted and worried. It’s now 4:30, she woke up panicked and scared and threw up (about a tablespoon) for the 3rd time. She’s scared and wants to go to the dr. She laid right back down and went back to sleep. I’m at a loss.


I have just read your post about your 6 year old. My daughter is 5 and is going through the same thing. Apart from she gets this everyday about 1/2 hours after she’s fallen asleep and will then be sick occasionally. Did you find anything to help the situation please?

This is pretty much exactly what my sone does but without the sitting up but alot more frequent outburst we have been battling this for nearly 3 years he is 8yrs old now but it has improved from younger ages where he would wake 15+ times per night whaling screaming shouting thrashing around and yea absolutly no memory of his behaviour at all next day!…id say from maybe age 6 onwatds we now go through waves of these episodes in groups of couple weeks long and then maybe nothing for several weeks and repeat!🙈 and throughout the 4 year battle im still searching for answers as all this does still result in multiple bed wetting episodes per night!🙈 helllp! Xx


How tough. Wow.

If you don’t mention her being awake, does she remember the episode(s) in the morning? Does she spontaneously talk about them? I know she will be sleepy and lethargic from a horrible night’s sleep. Also, have you tried taking her to the bathroom and sitting her on the toilet when they first start? Have you taken her temperature?

My heart goes out to you, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

My daughter has confusional states normally at least once a night. It had been more but her excema seemed to be triggering them at one point when it was very bad when the covers moved over her skin (now thank fully understand control). hers are related to needing the toilet but I wonder if people can help me she groans out but is non vocal and does not respond to gentlet touch to guide her to the toilet..she will hit out. Lights don’t help she then screams she can’t see. She becomes very distressed by intervention but the only way to settle it is to carry her to the bathroom with her protesting and hope it doesn’t wake her brother. If I take her before she needs it she just refuses to go. Any suggestions?

My daughter had night terrors from age 1-8 or so. At some point a light bulb turned on in my head, I had an intuition to get her to use the bathroom. It seemed to work! I then searched night terrors and urination and found something in my search that suggested I was onto something. So for her last few episodes she had, I guided her to the bathroom and it worked every time!!! Just after doing this a few times her night terrors stopped completely! Occasionally I get reminded of our experiences and I try to suggest this strategy to others so I joined a group to share. I decided today to research night terrors and urination again, which led me to this article. I’m excited to see others learning this strategy and it helping. I definitely think some of these children are struggling with their bodies not knowing yet to wake up and empty their bladder and then resulting in these night terror type episodes.

Exactly what we discovered over the years as well!

My 4 1/2 year old daughter has these episodes where I hear a thud from her room- she has fallen out of bed and is seen running in place with a panicked look, usually crying. For the last year or so I have always led her to the bathroom (she doesn’t appear to be able to navigate) and pull her pants down and help her sit on the toilet. She always urinates. Then she would just sit there. I have to wipe her, pull her pants back up and lead her by hand or carry her back to bed. She is unable to vocalize / answer any questions during these episodes and I feel as though she is just staring through me when I ask her questions. Eyes are glassy and she appears “out of it.” She promptly falls back asleep once back in bed. These happen maybe once a month. The episodes still scare me and she does not seem to be able to recall them. Thanks for the great article.

My son who is 11 still suffers from these. He sometimes demands to be taking to the doctor as he feels he is dying. All of the time he needs to go to the toilet. He screams for us and is so disillusioned, even if we try talk to him he looks at us but still cries for his mammy/daddy. This has happened 5/7 days this week.

My son is doing the same thing . He’s 11 and goes to the bathroom right away too. He’s scarred and asking for mommy and daddy. This has been going on every night for 5 weeks. Have you heard of anything to do to help stop this.?

When I was a kid from around 5- 10 yes I had night terrors I would walk around the house and scare everyone as if I were possessed i would freak out at people trying to calm me scream and look at them as if they were demons this happened almost every night I would occasionally do it at sleepovers but generally at home in the middle of the night , I remember going to a couple of specialist s but there wasn’t much they could do, the only thing I remember from the events were waking up urinating because my mum had got me to the toilet , I also used to suffer from nightmares so intense and numerous through the night ,I had recurring nightmares which I found a way I could wake myself from by biting my tongue or cheeks until I woke with blood in my mouth, it was terrifying as kid I felt helpless and suicidal because of the torment when I became a teen it started to dull down abit but I would still have the nightmares when I was seventeen I started smoking marijuana daily and all of my dreams stopped I go to sleep deeply and wake up with no dreams I gave up for about 6months a few years ago and my dreams returned back with a vengeance I started smoking again and they went away , i found my cure even it is just temporary

Although at first my 3 year old will refuse to pee, at second or third attempt he will do so and in a matter of seconds the night terror stops. Once I found this out it was definitely a relief. Before, he would keep crying and screaming for more than 20 minutes. I had even tried wetting his hands and feet but with no success. Apparently emptying his bladder works the best, at least for us! Thank you for the article. I will definitely share it!

Just wondering at what age do night terrors typically occur? Do babies or toddlers have night terrors?

Hi Mandy,

Dr. Greene says, “The tendency toward sleepwalking, confusional arousals, and true sleep terrors often runs in families. They tend to be more common in boys, and are much less common after age 7.”

Hope that helps, @MsGreene
Note: I answer a lot of questions on DrGreene.com, I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, Dr. Greene’s business partner and wife, but I am a not doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

Recently, my 10 year old son has been waking up every night about an hour after he begins sleeping. He always yells out for us, gets out of bed, and moves quickly to find us. His arms and hands are shaking while he appears very upset. He is inconsolable but talking with eyes open. He uses the bathroom to urinate and sometimes throws up from being so worked up. Shortly after, he returns to his bed and usually does not get up again (except for a few times when he has awoke several times). I’ve thought it was stress induced. His words do not always make sense but sometimes they are related to schoolwork, teachers and classes. He does not remember anything the next morning. This information about a full bladder is very interesting to me and I certainly can not argue against a possible connection based upon my experiences. I still wonder if some of the school issues and his other physical changes might also be factors. It is a helpless feeling as a parent to have to watch your child exhibit these behaviors. I am thankful that he does not recall the events each night.

My 10 yr old has just started having this same behaviour an 1hr after being asleep. What you have described is exactly on point to what we are currently experiencing. As your situation occurred in 2016 I would be very interested to hear if he outgrew it and the episodes resolved. Living in hope this won’t last forever.

Here is my response as a mom (note: I am not a doctor):

I wonder if he isn’t getting enough sleep. Exhaustion may be causing him to sleep deeper than normal. In addition, I wonder if he may be stressed out about school and the combo is coming out in this sleep pattern.

If this is the case, can you help him get to bed earlier? Perhaps over the weekend he could catch up a bit by also sleeping in?

Best, @MsGreene
Co-founder & Executive Producer DrGreene.com, Mom
Note: I answer a lot of questions on DrGreene.com, I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, Dr. Greene’s business partner, but I am a not doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

My son is doing the moaning and rolling around about same time every night within a 3 hour window, between 1 and 4 am. Most of the times he needs to pee and wakes up fine to go and then is right back to sleep as soon as head hits the pillow. A few times it’s not so easy and tonight has been the worst of them all.

Tonight started out with rolling around and moaning and trying to snuggle into my shoulder. I asked if he needed to go potty and he shook his head no and I immediately asked him again and he gets up holding himself and said yes. I asked him if he wanted his potty chair, which is in the room next to the beds, or if he wanted the toilet. He said not his chair so we trekked upstairs to the bathroom and I got his pants down to go to the bathroom and as I was sitting him on the toilet he started freaking out and screaming. He jumped off the toilet ran all over upstairs screaming and telling me no mommy I don’t want to go on there and then he started trying to slam the door and when I held the door so he couldn’t close it he bit me and gave me an instant bruise with some blood and then he started picking up his toys and throwing them across the room, and it was his bigger heavier toys not the little easier to throw ones, while still screaming blood curdling screams. He stopped screaming and throwing stuff after he urinated on my area rug. Then he was crying and when I asked if he was done pottying he said yes so he went and got his underwear and pj pants so I could help him get dressed. He let me help him and then sat in the rocking chair while I did a quick clean up on the rug. I carried him back to bed and he crawled onto his blankets and was snoring in seconds.

Amongst his screaming and yelling he said I don’t like automatic ones and I kept reassuring him our toilet was not an automatic toilet. He’s terrified of the automatic vacuum suck toilets that are everywhere.

Would this be an instance of confusional arousal? He gets violent in whatever they are but it’s mostly just hitting and screaming, tonight escalated to biting and throwing his big toys and trying to slam doors. He will be 3 in December.


This sounds like a combination of confusional arousal and an irrational fear. (Though in this case, it might be a rational fear. Those automatic toilets, that flush while you’re still sitting on them are at best unpleasant!)

The key for many kids is not to ask them if they want to sit on the potty, but to gently help them get their clothes in position and sit them on the potty while gently talking with them — “It’s potty time. I’m going to help you. It’s right here. Go ahead and sit. You can pee now.” In the half awake state, they do not need to make a decision and often can’t make one. Or if they try, it sends them over the edge.

I hope that’s helpful.


My 4yo daughter has had two night terrors over the past few months. Both times after a few minutes of intense crying and thrashing and not responding I put her on the potty and as soon as she urinated the night terror immediately stopped and she fell right back asleep. I’m so glad I found your site and tried this tactic.


Thank you so much for letting us know. It’s very rewarding to know people are being helped.


We’ve had a few isolated episodes of night terrors with our 10 month old son, but after last night’s 2 hour episode, I realize that maybe that’s what has been going on for a few weeks straight. I thought we had just lost any sleeping luck after a vacation, but now I think it’s been smaller episodes every night.
Our son’s first episode was on a plane(!), the second flight of a long day of travel delays when he was 8 months old. He seemed to wake up on the plane (we thought we were home-free with a sleeping baby), screamed inconsolably for 10 minutes, and then passed out again like nothing happened. Once we put together that he never really saw/heard us or even woke up, we looked up night terrors.
A few weeks later, he kept waking us up while he tried to scream/crawl in his sleep. Those wakings subsided once he learned to crawl. He was never really one to wake up crying, and the thrashing around made it obvious. I could nurse him back to sleep.
Then recently, after screwing up schedules with a vacation, I assumed we had ruined any sleep routines we had by sleeping in the same room and/or bed and nursing back to sleep. (And of course, front teeth coming in.) Every night he wakes up crying around 10:30 pretty reliably, after 2 1/2 hours of sleep. He’s sitting up in his crib now, mad he’s alone, which seemed to make sense. I have been nursing him back to sleep, then he does it again at 1-1:30am. Then I nurse him and bring him to our bed, where he’d cries and thrashes before he wakes up in the morning. All this from the baby who had never really had trouble getting through the night, and had been weaned at night. We never even really had to cry-it-out before.
I’ve been chicken to cry it out this time because he’s older, more vocal, and more mobile. Last night nursing back to sleep didn’t help and he thrashed around for a couple hours, as I said. Is it possible night terrors are the disturbance? We will try to preempt the night terrors starting tonight. We’ll let you know how it goes!


Oh, I feel your pain. This has got to be tough on you all.

I think your observation that the last tough time was when he was learning to crawl is very fascinating. By chance, is he trying to learn a new skill now? Walking perhaps?

It’s very common for kids who are learning to walk to have a period of rough sleep. They go to sleep, but wake up in the middle of the night because they’re so exciting about working on this cool new thing that they almost have. Perhaps your son is going through that, but he’s one of these kids that can’t fully wake up or who get caught between sleep stages.

Do let us know how it goes!


Hi help!! My daughter is 6 and has been having night terrors for a year or so now, mostly every night but then sometimes goes a week without one then pop it starts again. We went to a sleep charity and had a sleep study done that found she had 68 episodes of sleep apnea in one night. She also suffered with enlarged tonsils and lots of tonsillitis so she had a tonsillectomy and adenoids out a few months ago. Her tonsils were grade 3 and she had abnormally large adavoids so they definitely needed taking out BUT unfortunately we are still having night terrors.
We have tried everything I can think of, from no TV, relaxing massages before bed, sleeping in our bed, me sleeping with her in her bed, earlier bedtime, waking her after 40 mins of sleep (just before a terror due) but she would just have one half hour after this
..u name it we tried it. We tried taking her to the toilet like this suggests but she does nothing when there and most of the tume its impossible to get her to sit as she is that fraught running round and jumping about. She screams and cries and can’t see us its like were invisible it’s so awful. I have tried waking her for toilet before a terror and then a while after the terror to see if a wee was lurking but she 99% of the time does nothing. BUT she generally always has a wet pull up in the morning which I can only guess happens between 11pm-6am while am asleep cos I check all the other times.
The only thing I can think of that could trigger the terror is her being too hot, she has always been a hot child and even in winter kicks off her duvet. Every time she has a terror her face is bright red and she is damp with sweat n red hot to touch, even when she is in bed with just a vest n pj’s shorts with a sheet over her why is she so hot on a night?? We have had a fan on her the last week and funnily enough she hasn’t had a terror, yet tonight she went to bed with my husband as he on earlys n had a terror but had no fan on her n was boiling so could this be it?

Am lost, I hate seeing my child so upset and terrified and I feel so helpless I don’t know what else to do. She is such a bright happy girl, she has loads of friends and is doing so well at school and is always happy, she is a loving healthy girl with a big heart and a great loving family. The only thing is she is quite sensitive and often gets upset about things n takes things to heart, she often questions things about mummy n daddy always being there for her n never going away, she doesn’t want to leave us or grow up or change n never wants us to go to heaven or get older…I think she thinks bout these things too much n not sure why. Could this over thinking n the heat be causing terrors? Also she is scared of being alone n wont be on her own anywhere without someone being with her. So if I go upstairs, she follows etc etc.. anyway I just thought I’d try put this together to see if we could get any suggestions /thoughts / answers? Thank u

Did you ever find out what to do for your daughter? Your situation sounds very similar to ours with our seven year old. She awakens got as well. Anything you have learned that helps??


This sounds horrible for all of you!

The fan sounds very promising. I don’t know why it she may be extra hot, but it doesn’t sound like there is a down side to using the fan.

One of our guest bloggers wrote a post that may be helpful for you –> How to Stop Night Terrors Now!.

Please let us know how she’s doing.


Just listened to you on the sleep summit. I was eager to learn about night terrors. My son had them for several years, 9-12, and has outgrown them. We thought he was too hot when he went to bed as he would be sweating. He is 15 now but as I look back, my husband would take him to the bathroom and once he urinated he began to calm down. That was our “go to” in the hopes he’d settle down. I’m so glad that is over. So for any parent going through this, hang in there. The blessing is that they don’t even remember it happening. After a while we didn’t even tell our son he had an episode. When we spoke about it after the fact, we realized he was wondering what was wrong. We didn’t want him to think there was something “wrong with him” as none of us understood at the time what was going on, so we then went through the motions and didn’t discuss it with him.

Thanks so much for providing your input. Your story adds to what we’ve heard from others.

Wow! My daughter has been dry at night for 7 months now… She’s had a few nights where I’ve assumed she’s had night terrors. Many times I’ve googled to just find they start around her age so presumed that was it. Thank god I found this tonight. It’s almost 1am and my daughter was really restless before in bed and ended up getting really upset, eventually waking herself up. Came across the link to your page here and tried her on the potty. Ok it’s not ideal she’s awake at this time but she’s talking nicely now and we should be asleep soon. Thank you!!!

Thanks for letting us know your experience!

I just read your article and couldn’t believe you made a connection between a full bladder and night terrors. That was my cure for my daughter who would get them. I would pick her up and put her on the potty. As soon as she peed terror was over. I thought it was a fluke but it really worked for her.

Thanks for sharing your experience with your daughter. It’s great hearing from parents.


Hi I read the article about night terrors and I have the same issue with my son who is now almost 5 but he has had these since he was 3 and I have also came to notice that after I make him go to the toilet he also stops crying quite suddenly and off to sleep he goes again so I believe that this does have something that relates to why they have night terrors.

Thank you Dr Green, Helped me understand my daughter and her shaking at night and then urinating on my lap.