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What Are the Causes of Night Terrors in Babies?

By Meshell Powell
Updated May 17, 2024
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Sleep deprivation or an interruption of the normal sleep schedule are the most common contributing factors to night terrors in babies. A stressful home environment or physical illness may also increase the risks of having night terrors. This phenomenon may occur more frequently among children who have a family history of night terrors or other sleep disorders. Some medications or exposure to illicit drugs can potentially cause night terror in babies as well. Any specific questions or concerns about night terrors in babies should be discussed with a doctor or other medical professional.

A variety of sleep disturbances have the potential to cause the development of night terrors in babies. Once a bedtime routine has been established, any variations in the normal sleep schedule may cause night terrors to occur. If the baby is already in a deep sleep and something happens to interrupt the child's sleep, a night terror may ensue. In many cases, these sleep disturbances go unnoticed, and the exact cause of the night terrors in babies is never definitively understood. If they become persistent, paying close attention to the child's sleep patterns may help to determine what is causing the night terrors.

Extreme levels of stress are thought to sometimes cause a pattern of night terrors in babies. This stress may be due to child abuse, fighting parents, or any number of factors. Exposure to violent television shows or movies may result in the presence of this sleep disorder. Maintaining a peaceful environment for the child may help to avoid recurrences of these night terrors. If this issue is a consistent problem, a doctor or child psychiatrist may choose to run a series of physical and emotional tests in an effort to determine the root cause.

Some medications may cause night terrors in babies. If these occurrences develop after the child has begun treatment with a new medication, a doctor should be notified so the situation can be further evaluated. Environmental exposure to illicit drugs or drug use by a breastfeeding mother may also lead to this type of sleep disorder. Some illnesses experienced by the baby, especially if a fever is present, could be responsible for some instances of night terrors. The tendency to have nightmares, night terrors, or other sleep disorders may be genetic in some cases, as studies have shown an increased susceptibility to these occurrences among those who have family members who have suffered from such issues.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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