What can I do if my child has night terrors?

Night terrors can be distressing for parents, but they are common and usually pass in time. Children who have night terrors may shout, thrash around, or jump out of bed. Unlike nightmares, this can happen soon after falling asleep. Your child may also not remember night terrors when they wake up.

It’s important to know that even if their eyes are open, they may not be awake during an episode.

Supporting your child with terrors

Try to stay calm – it’s likely that you’ve woken abruptly and are feeling alarmed. Only intervene if your child is at risk of injury. For example, if they are out of control or close to an area where they could hurt themselves.

Block access to dangerous areas. Holding or restraining them may be difficult and could make them more frightened or anxious.

As long as your child is safe, don’t try to wake, comfort or talk to them. They may not recognise you, and could become more distressed.

Wait for them to calm down by themselves and go back into a calm sleep. If they wake after, settle them back to sleep.

Preventing night terrors

You can help reduce the likelihood of night terrors in a few different ways. This includes:

  • A relaxing bedtime routine  – this is a good first step.
  • Waking your child 15 minutes before the time they usually have terrors, if it happens at the same time each night. Doing this for seven days may be enough to stop the terrors without affecting sleep quality.
  • A full bladder may trigger night terrors, so try to limit drinks before bedtime and ask your child if they need the toilet before starting their bedtime routine. 
  • Try to avoid going into the bedroom after your little one has fallen asleep because sudden noises can trigger night terrors. 
  • Talking to your child when they are calm about anything that might be worrying them.

Most children grow out of night terrors, and they don’t cause any long-term harm. If you’re worried, or your child has night terrors frequently and intensely, it’s a good idea to get medical advice. You can also see NHS advice or speak to our parenting coaches on our free chat service.

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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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