Many parents have consoled a child in the middle of the night after a scary nightmare, but doctors say in some cases it’s not a nightmare, but instead a medical episode known as a sleep terror. 

A sleep terror is a rare but usually not harmful disorder. 

“It’s usually more stressful for the parents to observe the sleep terror than for the child to experience the sleep terror,” Dr. Cecilia Melendres, pediatric pulmonologist, said. “They have no recollection the following day and it usually does not affect their daytime functioning.” 

Sleep specialists at Johns Hopkins said most research on sleep terrors point to kids not getting enough sleep. 

“The big thing that we’ve seen is sleep deprivation, so just kids who have irregular sleep-wake cycle or those kids who usually take naps bus miss naps for several days,” Melendres said. 

Since terrors happen during a deep stage of sleep, some doctors believe interrupting a child about a half hour after dozing off can help. Once they start having a sleep terror, parents should not bother trying to wake them. 

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