Night terrors happen most often when children sleep deeply. Fathers, who have ever carried a limp child from the car to their bed without waking, understand what it means to have a child in deep sleep. The normal sounds that would arouse a sleeping adult – a slamming car door, rattling house keys, stumbling over hidden toys – don’t awaken these children.
Yet, it is during this same deep sleep that a child’s body can jolt into action; when the slumbering body responds to some kind of stimuli, yet the mind stays asleep, night terrors occur – leaving children in a sort of sleep limbo.
These sudden, partial awakenings occur most often during the first two hours of sleep and typically begin with a high-pitched scream – which brings panicked parents running – only to find a child appearing awake, pupils dilated, sweat forming and heart racing, says Dr. Stephen Sheldon, director of the Sleep Medicine Center at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, one of five children’s hospitals in the nation accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.