Problem: A few hours after her bedtime, you find her screaming, shaking, and moaning. Although her eyes are open, she doesn't seem to see you.
Likely diagnosis: A night terror. This phenomenon occurs in deep sleep, which is why she doesn't notice you and probably won't recall it the next day. Night terrors affect up to 5 percent of kids, typically starting between the ages of 3 and 5, and they're more common in children who sleepwalk. Both sleepwalking and sleep terrors tend to run in families.
In-the-moment fixes: You'll want to comfort your child, but you'll only make things worse by awakening and frightening her. Instead, stand by quietly during the episode -- usually about five minutes -- to keep her safe.
Long-term solutions: Because night terrors, like sleepwalking, are caused by sleep deprivation, which causes children to spend too much time in the deep-sleep stage, the fix is the same: more sleep. Work with your child to gradually stick to an earlier bedtime.
Originally published in the September 2010 issue of Parents magazine.
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