Night Terrors

Night Terrors

Night terrors are scary to watch but usually harmless to children. The most important thing to do when your child has a night terror is to keep your child safe.

Key points to remember about night terrors

This page is about sleep in primary school children. It's part of a whole section on sleeping sound.

  • night terrors are scary to watch but usually harmless to children
  • the most important thing to do when your child has a night terror is to keep your child safe
  • generally, nothing is gained by trying to wake a child up during a night terror
  • to encourage a return to normal sleep, guide your child gently back to bed
  • try to resist comforting your child during a night terror
  • night terrors are more likely to happen on nights when your child goes to sleep at a different time than usual

What can I do for my child who is having night terrors?

Night terrors are scary to watch but usually harmless to children. The most important thing to do when your child has a night terror is to keep your child safe. Make sure that all outside doors and windows are secure, that all doors and gates are locked and that areas such as stairs are blocked. Also, as your child may walk or run around during a night terror, clear away anything that they can step on or trip over.

Should I wake my child?

Generally, nothing is gained by trying to wake a child up during a night terror. Sometimes, doing this can make a child more upset. Also, if they wake up completely, you may have problems getting them back to sleep.

How can I get them back to normal sleep?

To encourage a return to normal sleep, guide your child gently back to bed. If they resist, let them remain where they are but do not leave the child.

Should I interfere when my child is having a night terror?

The normal response of parents is to try and comfort their child during a night terror. Try to resist doing this. Most children will just get more upset. Remember, they will not even remember this event in the morning. But, if your child is about to come to harm, be sure to keep them safe even if they fight you.

What else can I do to help?

Increase the amount of sleep that your child is getting and try to stop them getting overtired. Night terrors are much more likely to happen when your child does not get enough sleep.

When are night terrors more likely to happen?

Night terrors are more likely to happen on nights when your child goes to sleep at a different time than usual. So stick to a set bedtime for your child, taking into account the need for increased sleep. This may mean you need to change your child's bedtime or wake time.

Should I discuss night terrors the next day?

The morning after an event, do not make a point of discussing the episode with your child. Your child is unlikely to remember it. Discussing the event is likely to worry them. But, if on the rare occasion they do remember and bring it up, simply reassure them that they were safe and that you were looking after them.

You can also check the page on nightmares and night terrors.  

Thumbnail of 'Night terror' handout

Starship Foundation and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand thank the Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia, for making this content available to parents and families.

© Copyright – Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 2014. Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), no part of this content may be reproduced by a process, electronic or otherwise, without the specific written permission of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.

This page last reviewed 01 June 2020.
Email us your feedback


On this page