Dr. Henry Paul, MD

Psychiatrist, Author and Educator


March 11th, 2014

In my last couple of blogs, I have been discussing a group of sleep disorders in children called Parasomnias.  I have addressed two of the four parasomnias in children; nightmares and sleepwalking.  Today I will discuss night terror.

Night terror disorder is quite frightening for parents or to anyone who witnesses it.  Typically the child bolts upright from sleep with eyes wide open (although often not able to recognize family members), appears frightened often to the point of panic, and is screaming, confused, and inconsolable. The heart rate is elevated; there is shortness of breath, and he might be sweating, as well. There is what appears to be acute terrifying distress. The child usually cannot be awakened. The episode usually occurs in the first third of the night, and he falls right back to sleep.  There is amnesia for the event the next morning.

Although this is a dramatic event, it is not particularly serious in the long term.  It occurs rarely and usually disappears by teenage years. Some hypothesized causes are fatigue, new environments, fever, obstructive sleep apnea, and stress of some sort.  As with nightmares the way to handle this is to be reassuring and comforting and for you not to panic.  Practicing good sleep hygiene is a parent’s best bet.  If these night terror attacks become frequent and/or disrupt family life, the use of benzodiazepines for a short amount of time has been found helpful. Some parents have reported that 1-5 hydoxytryptophan, which is sold over the counter and metabolized to become serotonin in the body, has allayed these terror attacks.

Our next blog is bedwetting  and it will conclude this short blog series on  parasomnias.

Information contained in this blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical or psychiatric advice for individual conditions or treatment and does not substitute for a medical or psychiatric examination. A psychiatrist must make a determination about any treatment or prescription. Dr. Paul does not assume any responsibility or risk for the use of any information contained within this blog.

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