A night terror happens when a person wakes from sleep in a terrified state, but does not remember anything the next day.

Night terrors usually appear in children between the ages of 3 and 7 years, and about 30% of children have had at least one.

Babies can have them, too. They are less common in this age group, and due to a lack of research specific to babies, the prevalence is unknown.

Night terrors are not the same as nightmares. However, some people use the term to describe anything that causes a baby to seem afraid at night.

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Babies with night terrors may seem to be in a state of panic or fear. They may not respond to the adults around them and may also seem very confused.

During a night terror, a baby may scream, cry, or have a rapid heart rate. Afterward, the baby may show no signs of distress.

Night terrors do not indicate that the baby has had a bad dream. They do not tend to occur during the stages of sleep when dreaming takes place.

Learn about night terrors in toddlers here.

Night terrors almost always occur in the first third of a baby’s sleeping cycle. During a night terror, a baby may:

  • sit up in bed and seem very afraid but not awake
  • be unable to respond
  • scream, cry, shout, or flail
  • be difficult or impossible to awaken
  • walk or crawl aimlessly

Night terrors can be brief, but some may last 45–90 minutes. Afterward, a baby may show no signs of remembering the terror. They may be calm or return to sleeping peacefully.

If a baby seems afraid after fully waking up, the issue might be something else, such as something scary in the room or a memory of a nightmare.

Doctors do not know what causes night terrors. No research has found a link between night terrors and brain chemistry or structural differences.

Children who sleepwalk are more likely to have night terrors. Babies with night terrors may eventually sleepwalk.

Night terrors most often happen between stages of sleep, such as non-rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and REM sleep. The brain’s electrical patterns change between these stages, which may lead to night terrors.

Also, children may be more likely to have night terrors when they have a fever, are under stress, are not sleeping enough, or are very physically active.

Some researchers believe that there is a genetic component to night terrors, though they have not identified a specific gene or combination of genes involved.

A night terror does not stem from a health condition, though some babies with night terrors have other sleep issues, such as insomnia.

There is no treatment that can end night terrors, but most babies grow out of them. To help manage the issue, try:

  • soothing the baby
  • adjusting the baby’s bedtime routine to reduce any stress
  • modifying the baby’s diet to see whether any foods are triggers
  • addressing sources of stress within the family
  • making sure that the baby cannot flail and fall or hit their head while asleep

Sharing a room with the baby may also help, though it is not a good idea to share a bed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents and babies share a room, but not a bed, for at least the first 6 months, and preferably the first year, of life.

In adults, antianxiety medication may help ease night terrors, but these are not recommended for babies.

Night terrors can be scary, but they are not a sign of a health problem.

While doctors sometimes recommend sleep studies for people with other sleep disorders, these tend to be of little help for people with night terrors.

Night terrors usually go away on their own. However, let the pediatrician know about the issue. They should ensure that the baby is not experiencing a different problem.

Also, let a doctor know if a baby seems very agitated or afraid during the day. If a toddler walks in their sleep, it is important to report this, too.

No strategy has been scientifically proven to prevent night terrors. Some people find that keeping a log of their baby’s night terrors helps them identify triggers, such as stressors, fatigue, or certain foods.

It may also help to:

  • Establish a soothing nighttime routine.
  • Put the baby to bed at the same time each night to prevent exhaustion.
  • Avoid giving the baby anything that has caffeine in it.

Night terrors can be very disruptive and scary for everyone involved. However, they are not dangerous, and they usually go away on their own.

Anyone who thinks that their baby is experiencing this should notify a pediatrician, who can diagnose the issue and identify any changes that may help.