Ask AF: How to Respond to Night Terrors

Night terrors can be unsettling for new parents, who may wonder if their child is dealing with mental health problems.

Q: Our one-year-old son has been home for several months now. He’ll scream for as long as an hour in the middle of the night once or twice a month. During the day, he’s very happy and doesn’t seem at all disturbed. Please help!


A: Night terrors, like sleep-walking or sleep talking, do not reflect any mental health problem. During an episode, a child is seemingly inconsolable, but eventually falls back asleep. The next morning he awakens happy and without any apparent recollection of the event. Although night terrors tend to be more common in children slightly older than your son, what you describe doesn’t seem to indicate any maladjustment.

There is no particular treatment for night terrors. Some parents find that an earlier bedtime can help (night terrors are more common when children are overtired). If a child has night terrors at a regular time during his sleep cycle, gently awakening him shortly before that time can avert an episode.

If, however, your child is remembering bad dreams or nighttime fears, or seems persistently anxious or sad during the day, talk to his doctor or a therapist recommended by your agency.

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