Diagnosis

Is your child really having night terrors?

Many children have had night terrors several times a week for years on end, and for their parents this is a very easy question to answer. They know something is up and it is likely night terrors. Their pediatrician, friends, and parents have all told them that it's night terrors.

However, for most people they think that their child may be having bad nightmares or weird "tantrums" at night. Other families may think that their child is "possessed" at night. Many of these issues are actually night terrors, and there is a simple way to know this. After seeing a video or hearing a description of night terrors, it can become obvious. Here is a great video:

If your child has night terrors, you will watch this and say "Yes! That is my child!". It is usually very straightforward to tell if your child has night terrors. The kids will be non-responsive, will be unarousable, and in the morning will not remember the events. More importantly, the events cannot be stopped. If you try waking a child during a night terror, you will likely be unsuccessful. This is all very different from a nightmare, where children can be awoken out of them and usually remember every scary detail.

There are no blood tests, x rays, cat scans, etc. needed to know if a child has night terrors. It is simply based on the pattern of the sleep events, and if they fit the above video and description.

Do we need to do an overnight sleep study (polysomnogram)?

There may be rare occasions where an overnight sleep study, also called a polysomnogram, may be recommended to test for night terrors. In general, always listen to your physician if this recommendation is made. Sometimes this study is used to make sure nothing else is going on that could be making night terrors worse, such as severe snoring or sleep apnea. Typically this would only be used if your child were to have 3+ night terrors each night for months or years on end or if your child were excessively tired during the day.

Rest assured that likely 99%+ of children with night terrors will never need any exams, tests, or sleep studies.

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