What are the Causes of Night Terrors in Children?

Lindsey Rivas
Lindsey Rivas
Sleep deprivation and stress might cause night terrors in children.
Sleep deprivation and stress might cause night terrors in children.

The cause of night terrors in children is unknown for certain, but there are several factors that seem to increase the likelihood of having them. Night terrors usually occur between the ages of 3 and 12 years old, and they often disappear by adolescence. Factors that might contribute to night terrors in children include sleep deprivation, stress, family history of night terrors, and certain medications. Also, there are a few techniques that might prevent night terrors from happening.

Sleep deprivation may be caused by apnea, illness, or because the child is staying up later than normal.
Sleep deprivation may be caused by apnea, illness, or because the child is staying up later than normal.

Approximately 1% to 6% of children experience night terrors. The episodes typically occur during the transition from stage three to stage four of non-rapid eye movement sleep, about 90 minutes after falling asleep. During the episodes, children will usually sit up in bed, screaming or crying in fear, and be unresponsive to anyone trying to console them. Night terrors are much more intense than regular nightmares, although the children usually do not remember the episodes upon waking.

DIsruption of sleep due to fever may cause night terrors.
DIsruption of sleep due to fever may cause night terrors.

One of the factors that might lead to night terrors in children is sleep deprivation. This can happen when children become overly tired from being awake for too long or staying up later than usual. It might also result from disruption of sleep because of conditions such as sleep apnea, fever, or illness.

Another reason that children might have night terrors is due to psychological stress and anxiety. Stressful life events or traumatic experiences can be upsetting to children. Things like school anxiety, sleeping in a new environment, or hearing their parents argue can cause stress, which might trigger night terrors in children.

Additionally, night terrors seem to be a condition that is inherited. About 80% of children who experience night terrors have a family member who also had them. It is unknown as to what causes them to be hereditary.

During night terror episodes, children will usually sit up in bed screaming and crying in fear.
During night terror episodes, children will usually sit up in bed screaming and crying in fear.

Certain medications might also bring about night terrors in children. Medications that affect the central nervous system and the brain can disrupt their sleep patterns. Antidepressants and antihistamines might increase the chances of having night terrors as well.

There are a few practices that might help prevent night terrors in children. One is to make sure children get plenty of rest, do not become overtired, and have a bedtime routine to help them relax. Reducing stress and anxiety in the lives of children also can help. If children usually have night terrors after sleeping a certain amount of time, it might be helpful to wake them up just prior to that time period. In extreme cases, a doctor might prescribe medication to relieve anxiety or recommend psychotherapy.

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    • Sleep deprivation and stress might cause night terrors in children.
      Sleep deprivation and stress might cause night terrors in children.
    • Sleep deprivation may be caused by apnea, illness, or because the child is staying up later than normal.
      Sleep deprivation may be caused by apnea, illness, or because the child is staying up later than normal.
    • DIsruption of sleep due to fever may cause night terrors.
      DIsruption of sleep due to fever may cause night terrors.
    • During night terror episodes, children will usually sit up in bed screaming and crying in fear.
      During night terror episodes, children will usually sit up in bed screaming and crying in fear.
    • During episodes of night terrors, a child may sit up in bed and scream.
      During episodes of night terrors, a child may sit up in bed and scream.