Is my son having night terrors?
Q: I think that my son is having night terrors. He wakes up about 2 hours after going to sleep. He is very frightened, confused and often does not remember the episode. Sometimes his arms are rigid and he wrings his hands very tightly. He is clearly panicked and keeps calling for me, even though he is in my arms. Sometimes I think he is not even aware that I am holding him. He started having them just once per week, then every couple of days. Now they are alsmost every night. How do I help him?
A: Your description sounds exactly like night terrors, including occurring about two hours after falling asleep, not being aware of your presence, appearing agitated and upset, and not remembering it the next morning. Night terrors are just like sleepwalking but just more dramatic. They also tend to run in families, so think about if you or your child’s other parent ever talked or walked in his/her sleep. Not getting enough sleep, as well as anything that disrupts sleep, will make them more likely to happen. So be sure to put your little one to bed early and ensure that there is nothing disrupting his sleep, like snoring or household noise. During a night terror it is best to literally do nothing and let it run its course. Trying to calm your son your down, even just gently touching him or saying his name, will often make it worse and last much longer than doing nothing other than ensuring he is safe.
Answered by Dr. Jodi Mindell