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Sleepwalking, Sleep Talking, Night Terrors, and Nightmares

Providing Comfort and Comprehensive Treatment for Sleepwalking, Sleep Talking, Night Terrors, and Nightmares

Leading specialists at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies Children's Hospital Pediatric Sleep Center are experts in dealing with common sleep problems in children of all ages. While scary dreams are common in most children, a pediatric sleep medicine specialist can help determine if additional evaluation and management is necessary.

Managing Nightmares, Night Terrors and Confusional Arousals

Our sleep medicine specialists at the Pediatric Sleep Center help manage nightmares and night terrors, especially in children who are undergoing stress or a traumatic experience. Nightmares or vivid, scary dreams that happen early in the morning hours are relatively common. Night terrors usually occur within one to two hours after falling asleep. While night terrors are less common, they may be more frightening. Symptoms of night terrors include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Crying out or screaming
  • Sleep walking or kicking
  • Unresponsive to attempts to wake or comfort

Night terrors and sleepwalking tend to go away on their own, as children get older. However, if a child has recurrent, intense or upsetting dreams, it can be a sign of emotional stress. Specialists at Pediatric Sleep Center are specially trained to help children experiencing recurrent, severe nightmares. If a child has multiple night terror-like episodes or confusional arousals in a single night, then the child may need to be check for other problems like sleep-related seizures.

Coping with Sleepwalking and Sleep Talking

Many children experience sleepwalking and sleep talking. Children may cry out in their sleep, calling a friend’s name or mumbling a sentence that is unintelligible; they may also get out of bed and stumble through the house during the night. Most children will not remember these episodes of sleepwalking or sleep talking the next morning.

While sleepwalking and sleep talking are common in healthy children, our pediatric sleep specialists have the knowledge and experience to assess the child to see if additional evaluation and management is necessary. Treatments may include the following:

  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Having a regular wake sleep schedule
  • Avoiding nighttime stimulation
  • Doing relaxation therapies

Medications are almost never needed unless the episodes are associated with injurious behaviors.

Sometimes sleep terrors and sleep walking are triggered by other problems that disrupt sleep such as obstructive sleep apneas or leg jerks at night. Identifying and treating these other sleep triggers can solve or improve night terrors or sleep walking.

Managing Nightmares in Children

Nightmares in children are not unusual, and can usually be managed through some simple tactics. Avoiding stressors and limiting anxiety close to bedtime is one way to help diminish the likelihood of a nightmare. This can include avoiding watching scary movies and other similar activities. Briefly comforting a child when they awake from a bad dream will help assure them that they are safe and secure. Discussing the nightmares with the child during the day can also help determine if there is a specific underlying source of stress, and can help parents devise a way to alleviate this stress in the child's life.