Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, are not the same as nightmares.
Nightmares are quite vivid and memorable, and may cause a significant disruption of sleep. Night terrors are sudden arousals from sleep often marked by a shriek, cry, or some other sound just before awakening.
After a night terror, children usually fall quickly back to sleep, although they may seem a bit confused or befuddled immediately after the event. In the morning, the child usually has little, if any, recollection of the incident, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).
Parents should not try to awaken a child who is experiencing a night terror, but should keep the child in a safe place to prevent accidental injury, until the night terror has ended. Night terrors are generally much more frightening for the person witnessing them than for the person experiencing them.
Night terrors occur most frequently in children around age 5, but they can start as early as age 3. They usually end by adolescence, although they can reappear in adults around age 30.
Approximately 5 percent of all children will experience night terrors on an irregular basis. Some children have them once a month; others on consecutive nights. The root cause of night terrors is still unknown.
Unless the night terrors are occurring on such a regular basis that they disrupt the child's sleep, you don't need to seek treatment. Talk to your child's health care provider if you have questions or concerns about night terrors.
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