My child wakes up upset and not wanting to eat….what is it?

I was recently asked about a toddler with difficulty sleeping, awaking in apparent pain, and not wanting to eat or drink much.  I can’t say for sure what this is, but one thing it may be is night terrors.

Sleep, or night terrors, are episodes of fear, flailing and screaming while asleep.  Episodes usually lasts from seconds to a few minutes.  These episodes are frightening, but they aren’t usually a cause for concern. Most children outgrow sleep terrors.

Children usually don’t remember anything about their sleep terrors in the morning.

During a sleep terror episode, a person might:

  • Sit up in bed
  • Scream or shout
  • Kick and thrash
  • Sweat, breathe heavily and have a racing pulse
  • Be hard to awaken
  • Be inconsolable
  • Get out of bed and run around the house

Various factors can contribute to sleep terrors, including:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Fatigue
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Fever (in children)
  • Sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings
  • Lights or noise

Treatment for sleep terrors isn’t usually necessary. Speak softly and calmly. Shaking your child or shouting may make things worse.

If the sleep terrors are associated with an underlying medical or mental health condition or another sleep disorder, treatment is aimed at the underlying problem. If stress or anxiety seems to be contributing to the sleep terrors, your doctor may suggest meeting with a therapist or counselor.  

If sleep terrors are a problem for you or your child, here are some things to try:

  • Make the environment safe:  close and lock all windows and exterior doors at night. Block doorways or stairways with a gate, and move electrical cords or other objects that pose a tripping hazard.
  • Get more sleep. Fatigue can contribute to sleep terrors. Try an earlier bedtime or a more regular sleep schedule.
  • Establish a regular, relaxing routine before bedtime. Do quiet, calming activities — such as reading books, doing puzzles or soaking in a warm bath — before bed.

 The above information was obtained through the Mayo Clinic website.


About cschaffer78

I'm a family practice physician in Evansville, IN. My practice is described as "full-spectrum" family practice, meaning I see patients "from cradle to grave". I care for men and women of all ages, I deliver babies, and even follow my patients when they are hospitalized. Medical Disclaimer The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider
This entry was posted in Mood, Pediatrics, Psychology. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to My child wakes up upset and not wanting to eat….what is it?

  1. Jennifer Rogers says:

    Does this seem to run in families? I had this as a child and both Mathis and Grayson have experienced these episodes.

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