Question: My son just turned 5 years old. Ever since he was born, usually every single night, he wakes up screaming as if being tortured. When he was younger I thought it was night terrors. In the last year, he still wakes up with a tortured scream. He seems to not know what’s going on, where he is, or even why he’s crying. He won’t tell me what’s wrong, which is really strange since my son is the most talkative child.
Sometimes he gets out of bed, stands at my door, screaming. He’ll start shaking. He usually does this for about 5 minutes. Then he’ll bolt to the bathroom. After he’s done peeing he’ll return to his room and back to bed as if nothing happened. Sometimes he’s still disoriented when he goes to the bathroom so he pees in the trash or even the sink. But he goes back to bed just fine. No screaming or crying. The next morning, he’s just fine. Wakes up energized ready for the day.He even knows he wakes up screaming at night, but even awake he can’t tell me why he wakes up screaming. He says he just does. A few weeks out of the year, he’ll sleep throughout the night not waking up. But will start up again. He doesn’t seem affected by it but it still worries me.

Answer: Hi Ati, It sounds like sleep terrors. You said you used to think it was that when he was younger. Do you no longer think that? If so, why did you rule it out?The sudden screaming and the disorientation you describe during your son’s episodes does make it sound pretty characteristic of sleep terrors. The episodes typically go away in time, usually before adolescence. They are also typically benign.As Dr. Dement has written in the Stanford Sleep Book: “Parents of young patients must be reassured that these dramatic episodes have no psychopathological implications, that they seldom cause injury, and are almost always outgrown.”However, for frequently occuring episodes of sleep terrors, especially those occuring in adults, or for episodes that cause injury or significant anxiety in children, a sleep specialist should be consulted.

Thanks for your question and good luck,
Kevin