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Why shouldn’t you wake a night terror?

Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, can be a frightening experience for both children and their parents. These episodes of intense fear and terror can occur during the night, leaving parents feeling helpless and unsure of how to respond. One of the most important things to remember when dealing with night terrors is that it’s best not to try to wake a child during a night terror. In this blog post, we will explore the reasons why waking a child during a night terror is not recommended and provide recommendations on how to handle these episodes effectively.

Explanation of Night Terrors

Night terrors are a type of parasomnia, characterized by sudden awakenings from sleep accompanied by feelings of extreme fear or terror. Unlike nightmares, which occur during REM sleep and are often remembered by the individual, night terrors occur during deep non-REM sleep and are typically not remembered by the child. The child may appear to be awake, but they are actually still asleep and unaware of their surroundings.

The exact cause of night terrors is not fully understood, but they are believed to be related to an over-arousal of the central nervous system during sleep. Certain factors may contribute to the occurrence of night terrors, including genetic predisposition, sleep deprivation, stress, and external triggers such as certain medications or sleep disturbances.

Understanding the Consequences of Waking a Child During a Night Terror

Trying to wake a child during a night terror can often be counterproductive and may prolong the episode. When a child is woken up abruptly from a night terror, they may experience disorientation and confusion. They may not fully understand what is happening or why they were woken up, which can increase their distress and make it more difficult for them to settle down and go back to sleep.

Additionally, waking a child during a night terror can disrupt their natural sleep cycle, leading to further sleep disturbances and potentially impacting their overall sleep quality. This can have a negative impact on the child’s well-being and may result in increased daytime sleepiness and behavior problems.

Recommended Approach to Handling Night Terrors

While there is no specific treatment for night terrors, there are strategies that can help prevent their occurrence and support the child during an episode. Here are some recommended approaches to handling night terrors:

1. Creating a Safe Sleep Environment

Ensuring that the child’s sleep environment is safe and conducive to a good night’s rest is essential. Make sure the room is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Remove any potential hazards or distractions that may contribute to sleep disturbances.

2. Implementing a Consistent Bedtime Routine

Establishing a consistent bedtime routine can help signal to the child’s body that it is time to wind down and prepare for sleep. A soothing routine that includes activities such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques can help promote a sense of calm and relaxation before sleep.

3. Addressing Any Underlying Issues or Stressors

If there are any underlying issues or stressors that may be contributing to the child’s night terrors, it is important to address them. This may involve talking to the child about their fears or concerns, seeking professional help if necessary, or making adjustments to their daily routine or environment.

Tips for Parents and Caregivers During a Night Terror

When a child is experiencing a night terror, it is essential for parents and caregivers to remain calm and provide support. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Remaining Calm and Reassuring

It’s crucial to stay calm and composed during a night terror episode. Remember that the child is not consciously aware of what is happening and may not respond to attempts to wake them or calm them down. Offer comforting words and reassurance, letting them know that you are there for them and that everything will be okay.

2. Ensuring the Child’s Safety and Preventing Injury

While it’s not advisable to wake a child during a night terror, it’s important to ensure their safety. Clear any potential hazards from their sleep environment, such as sharp objects or furniture with sharp corners. You can gently guide them away from any dangerous areas or objects, without fully waking them.

3. Observing and Monitoring the Duration of the Night Terror

During a night terror, it can be helpful to observe and monitor the duration of the episode. While it may be distressing to witness, remember that night terrors typically last only a few minutes. Keeping track of the duration can provide reassurance that the episode will soon pass.

Prevention Strategies for Night Terrors

While it’s not always possible to prevent night terrors entirely, there are strategies that can help reduce their occurrence. Consider the following prevention strategies:

1. Identifying and Addressing Potential Triggers

Pay attention to any patterns or triggers that may be contributing to the child’s night terrors. These triggers can vary from person to person and may include certain foods, medications, or stressful events. Avoiding or minimizing exposure to these triggers can help reduce the likelihood of night terrors.

2. Promoting Good Sleep Habits and Routines

Establishing healthy sleep habits and routines plays a crucial role in preventing night terrors. Ensure that the child gets enough sleep according to their age range and encourage a consistent sleep-wake schedule. Encourage relaxation techniques before bed and create a calm and peaceful sleep environment.

3. Seeking Professional Help if Night Terrors Persist

If night terrors persist and significantly disrupt the child’s sleep and daily functioning, it may be beneficial to seek professional help. A healthcare provider or sleep specialist can assess the situation, provide additional guidance, and offer strategies that are tailored to the child’s specific needs.


In conclusion, when it comes to dealing with night terrors, it is best not to attempt to wake a child during an episode. Waking a child can lead to disorientation and confusion, as well as prolong the duration of the night terror. Instead, focus on creating a safe sleep environment, implementing a consistent bedtime routine, and addressing any underlying issues or stressors that may be contributing to the night terrors. Remember to remain calm and reassuring during an episode, ensuring the child’s safety and monitoring the duration. By implementing prevention strategies and seeking professional help if necessary, parents and caregivers can effectively manage night terrors and promote healthy sleep for their child.


  1. Night Terrors (for Parents) – Nemours KidsHealth
  2. What is a Night Terror? – Sleep Doctor
  3. What Sleep Experts Say About Night Terrors (and Why We …
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