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Kids Health QA: Relief for Night Terrors

Q. My 3-year-old has been having night terrors for over a year, several times a night. The doctor insists nothing is wrong. What else can I try?

Night terrors are hard. They tend to occur early in the night, they're extremely upsetting to the child, and there's nothing you can do to calm her. The only benefit is that kids don't remember anything in the morning. (Nightmares, on the other hand, often happen closer to morning, and though they can be just as terrifying, the child remembers what happened and is usually consolable.) We don't know exactly what causes night terrors, but family history, stress, lack of sleep, illness, and certain medications that affect the brain all seem to play a role. So while your doctor is right that there's nothing wrong, there are some things you can do:

  • Think about whether there is any stress in your daughter's life, such as a difficult preschool or daycare situation -- and about whether there's anything you can do to help her deal with it.

     

  • Make sure she gets enough sleep. Although each child has a different sleep requirement, your daughter should be getting 10 to 12 hours.

     

  • Strive for a consistent sleep routine. Sticking to a regular bedtime and the same presleep activities can also help. If none seem to make a difference, check in with your doctor for a complete exam. Sometimes medications are used for night terrors, but this is rarely necessary.

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