If sleep terrors are a problem for you or your child, here are some things to try:
- Make the environment safe. To help prevent injury, close and lock all windows and exterior doors at night. You might even lock interior doors or place alarms or bells on the doors. Block doorways or stairways with a gate, and move electrical cords or other objects that pose a tripping hazard. Avoid using bunk beds. Place any sharp or fragile objects out of reach, and lock up all weapons.
- Get more sleep. Fatigue can contribute to sleep terrors. If you are sleep deprived, try an earlier bedtime and a more regular sleep schedule. Sometimes a short nap may help.
- Establish a regular, relaxing routine before bedtime. Do quiet, calming activities — such as reading books, doing puzzles or soaking in a warm bath — before bed. Meditation or relaxation exercises may help, too.
- Put stress in its place. Identify the things that stress you out, and brainstorm possible ways to handle the stress. If your child seems anxious or stressed, talk about what's bothering him or her.
- Look for a pattern. If your child has sleep terrors, keep a sleep diary. For several nights, note how many minutes after bedtime a sleep terror episode occurs. If the timing is fairly consistent, wake your child about 15 minutes before you expect a sleep terror episode. Keep your child awake for five minutes, and then let him or her fall asleep again.
Keep in mind that sleep terrors typically aren't a serious condition — and they usually go away on their own.
Aug. 12, 2014
- Sateia M. International Classification of Sleep Disorders. 3rd ed. Darien, Ill.: American Academy of Sleep Medicine; 2014. http://www.aasmnet.org/EBooks/ICSD3. Accessed May 20, 2014.
- Parasomnias. The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. http://www.merck.com/mmpe/print/sec16/ch215/ch215f.html. Accessed June 3, 2014.
- In-lab sleep study. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. http://www.sleepeducation.com/disease-management/in-lab-sleep-study/overview. Accessed May 30, 2014.
- Goldstein CA. Parasomonias. Disease-a-Month. 2011;57:364.
- Sleep-wake disorders. American Psychiatric Association. http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/Sleep-wake%20Disorders%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf. Accessed May 30, 2014.
- Carter KA, et al. Common sleep disorders in children. American Family Physician. 2014;89:368.
- Haupt M, et al. Just a scary dream? A brief review of sleep terrors, nightmares, and rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder. Pediatric Annals. 2013;42:211.
- Non-rapid eye movement sleep arousal disorders. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. http://www.psychiatryonline.org. Accessed June 3, 2014.
- Silber MH (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. June 23, 2014.
- Olson EJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. July 1, 2014.
- Kotagal S (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. July 6, 2014.