Menu   WellSpan Health

Health Library

Health Library

Nightmares and Night Terrors

What are night terrors?

A night terror is a partial waking from sleep with behaviors such as screaming, kicking, panic, sleep walking, thrashing, or mumbling. They are harmless and each episode will end in deep sleep.

The following are common characteristics of a night terror:

  • Your child is frightened but cannot be awakened or comforted.

  • Your child's eyes are wide open but he or she does not know that you are there.

  • The episode lasts from 10 to 30 minutes.

  • Your child often does not remember the episode in the morning.

How to help a child during a night terrors

  • Try to help your child return to normal sleep. Do not try to awaken your child. Make soothing comments. Hold your child if it seems to help him or her feel better. Shaking or shouting at your child may cause the child to become more upset.

  • Protect your child against injury. During a night terror, a child can fall down a stairway, run into a wall, or break a window. Try to gently direct your child back to bed.

  • Prepare babysitters for these episodes. Explain to people who care for your child what a night terror is and what to do if one happens.

  • Try to prevent night terrors. A night terror can be triggered if your child becomes overly-tired. Be sure your child goes to bed at a regular time, and early enough to give him or her enough sleep. Younger children may need to return to a daily nap.

When to call your child's healthcare provider

While night terrors are not harmful, they can resemble other conditions or lead to problems for the child. Consult your child's healthcare provider if you notice any of the following:

  • The child has drooling, jerking, or stiffening

  • Terrors are interrupting sleep on a regular basis

  • Terrors last longer than 30 minutes

  • Your child does something dangerous during an episode

  • Other symptoms occur with the night terrors

  • Your child has daytime fears

  • You feel family stress may be a factor

  • You have other questions or concerns about your child's night terrors

What are nightmares?

Nightmares are scary dreams that awaken children and make them afraid to go back to sleep. Nightmares may happen for no known reason, but sometimes occur when your child has seen or heard things that upset him or her. These can be things that actually happen or are make-believe. Nightmares often relate to developmental stages of a child: toddlers may dream about separation from their parents; preschoolers may dream about monsters or the dark; school-aged children may dream about death or real dangers.

How to help a child with nightmares

  • Comfort, reassure, and cuddle your child.

  • Help your child talk about the bad dreams during the day.

  • Protect your child from seeing or hearing frightening movies and television shows.

  • Leave the bedroom door open (never close the door on a fearful child).

  • Provide a "security blanket" or toy for comfort.

  • Let your child go back to sleep in his or her own bed.

  • Do not spend a lot of time searching for "the monster."

  • During the bedtime routine, before your child goes to sleep, talk about happy or fun things.

  • Read some stories to your child about getting over nighttime fears.

When to call your child's healthcare provider

Consult your child's healthcare provider if you notice any of the following:

  • The nightmares become worse or happen more often

  • The fear interferes with daytime activities

  • You have other concerns or questions about your child's nightmares


Nightmares and Night Terrors - WellSpan Health

Online Medical Reviewer: Finke, Amy, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically-affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 2014-04-29T00:00:00
Last Modified Date: 2014-06-06T00:00:00
Posting Date: 2008-09-30T00:00:00
Published Date: 2015-08-31T00:00:00
Last Review Date: 2007-03-30T00:00:00
© 2015 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

I would like to:

Are you sure you would like to cancel?

All information will be lost.

Yes No ×

About the provider search

This search will provide you with WellSpan Medical Group and Northern Lancaster County (Ephrata) Medical Group primary care physicians and specialists. If we don’t have a WellSpan Medical Group physician to meet your criteria, the search will expand to include community physicians who partner with WellSpan Medical Group physicians through the WellSpan Provider Network or provide care to patients on the Medical Staffs of WellSpan’s Hospitals.


Schedule Your Next Appointment Online with MyWellSpan

Use your MyWellSpan patient portal any time to view available appointments, and pick the date and time that best suits your schedule.

Go to MyWellSpan

New to this practice?

If you don't have a WellSpan primary care provider and would like to schedule a new patient appointment with a provider who is accepting patients, just log into your MyWellSpan account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to see the offices that are accepting new patients in relation to your zip code. If you are not enrolled in MyWellSpan, go to, call 1-866-638-1842 or speak with a member of the staff at a participating facility to sign up. New patient scheduling not available at all practices/programs.

Already a patient at this practice?

If you already have a relationship with a WellSpan practice, simply log into your account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to schedule an appointment with any provider or practice that already counts you as a patient. Online scheduling varies by practice/program.