Autism and Night Terrors

Autism and Night Terrors

Someone asked me a question today and it got me thinking.  The question was if any of my kids ever have night terrors?  This person was concerned because their ASD has night terrors and they don’t know how to help.

If you have ever experienced your child having a night terror it’s scary and helpless,  ASD or not.

A night terror is kinda like a really bad dream that the child is physically acting out.  It’s very difficult to wake them from one of these night terrors. In my experience they are very unsettling witness and there was much that I could do but wait it out.

Gavin had horrible night terrors when he was little.  I even recorded some to show the doctors because Lizze and I were terrified by these occurrences. He would wake up and start screaming and yelling. It almost looked like he was fighting someone. There was nothing we could do to wake him and they would last for quite a while.

Occasionally,  Elliott will have a night terror but nothing like Gavin had. None of my kids have ever ever been caught sleep walking though.

My question is whether or not any of you deal with night terrors or sleep walking?  If so,  have you found anything that helps?  How do you handle it? Does it appear to be ASD related in anyway?

I also want to ask about your experience with Melatonin.  We have used it for years.  But every so often we have to take a break because it causes them to have nightmares.  I have heard this from other parents as well.  Do any of you experience anything like this?

Thank you very in advance for your time.


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my brother had night terrors that we could never discern the cause for but were told could be related to the onset of puberty…he was only 9ish… son has been on melatonin for years and only recently around 9 started having night terrors….my brother would run through the house slamming into doors and trying to escape something sometimes yelling "I can't get through I can't get through" my son just "wakes up" swinging and fighting and screaming but never gets out of the bed….a small dose of lorazepam seems to have helped his but heaven help us if we miss that dose of lorazepam…I have heard that melatonin can cause nightmares if the dose is too high but never experienced it until recently and we haven't changed his dose in several years


My Aspie son had night terrors from 5 yrs old til he was almost 8 yrs old. No idea what caused them. When they first started I could wake him up, but the doctor told me that it was not good to wake them from a terror, to let him go through it and hold him close, so that's what I did. He eventually just grew out of it.

We have been using melatonin to help him get to sleep for about 2 yrs now (my son is now 11). and they have never caused him to have nightmares. But they do make him groggy in the mornings if he take a full dose, so I usually break it in half. He's fine using it, and I use it as well once in a while.

All the best!

Lisa Brown

My son experienced sudden and severe night terrors starting at about 7 months of age and they continued regularly for over one month then stopped. They were terrifying. My baby was diagnosed with ASD at 20 months of age. We started using Melatonin when he was approx. 3 years old because he just never had regular sleep cycles that we could live with. Never had any problems, nightmares or otherwise. I started taking it as well just about a year ago due to some insomnia and never experienced bad dreams.


Very interesting.
My 5yr old has night terrors frequently. He does not have autism, but has sensory issues and inflammatory bowel disease/crohn's disease. We notice they are more frequent and more severe when his GI stuff is flared. That's also when his sensory stuff is the worse.
I have two boys on the spectrum (Asperger's/high functioning) and neither of them have ever had night terrors. Though one does have nightmares, bad dreams at times.
No experience with melatonin as we've never used it.
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Very interesting. Thank you for sharing your experience.


My son gets night terrors about once a year or so. Nothing seems to lead up to them that we can tell but I am sure it is something.

As far as the Melatonin goes it works well for my son, no nightmares here. After the doctors suggested it, we tried it and have had no problems. I think it is in part because we found the does that works the best for him. He has a very hard time shutting down. We tried a 3mg dose and that was too much, he was sleeping so hard he would wet the bed, which he has never done. We now give him 1.5 – 1.75mg when we can tell he will have a hard time winding down and going to bed.


Glad it works for you. It works well for us. We only use it when we need to. Usually the same dose as you stated.


Never had night terrors myself, but thanks for the heads up that melatonin can cause nightmares. I've considered using it, but really have no interest in making my nightmares worse. Beth, I've had the experience that low blood sugar can worsen nightmares as well. Always eating before bed has helped tremendously.


That very interesting. Thanks for sharing that….


Many years ago when I was a child I had night terrors. The timing of them was very predictable. The doctor suspected it might be low blood sugar and suggested my parents give me a light snack right before bed time and that solved the problem.


My son had terrible night terror's for years. I discovered one night that turning on the light, reading a book with a soft voice eventually snapped him out of it. He would sit next to me (sometimes still screaming) unitl it seemed like he would literally "synch" to me. I never used words (other than reading to him) but I would coo softly. Good luck
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Keith Ketover

My 5 year old has them. We have a suspicion that he has some sensory processing issues and is sensory seeking. We read an article that night terrors could be related to having a full bladder. What we do is "play along" with his nightmare and get him to the bathroom. For example, if he is yelling "I don't want that!" over and over we tell him "You don't have to have it. Give it to me. Let's go to the potty." Once he urinates he usually calms down and goes back to sleep.


Hey Rob.

Mason used to have TERRIBLE night terrors. Sometimes he still does. I noticed he has them most when he has had a particlarly over stimulating day. It used to be something as simple as a doctors appointment that day or something so small. We're so used to being on the go now that it takes a lot of small little factors to set him off. Like how he's feeling that day.. whether we're following SOME kind of routine.. Warning him about changes in his day.. where we're going.. if there's going to be a lot of people around.. all that Jazz.

As for melatonin.. My family has been using it for years and until now I never connected bad dreams with the medication. It's funny you brought that up. I never really had bad dreams but wierd confusing dreams. LOL. But the only other adverse effect I've found is that with prolonged use.. you need more. Almost like your body builds up a tolerance to it.

Hope this helps!

Yvette Kennedy

Hey Rob –
Sayge used to have night terrors ALL the time! Same degree as Gavins. She would wake up screaming & yelling. Very scary. The one time my neighbor heard her! He was going to call the cops b/c he thought there was something wrong. Anyhow, I spoke to the Dr about hers & they were really no help. They just gave me a list as long as my arm of why they could be happening. Anyhow, my husband & I kept an eye on this very closely and discovered that with Sayge it only seemed to happen when she got extremely over heated. What we had to do was we now keep her room very cool, even in the winter. We she uses sheets in the summer and VERY light blankets in the winter. We have enough to keep her warm, but not anything heavy like a comforter to overheat her. It seems to have done the trick. Also, when she would have these fits I would take a cool wet rag and put it on the bag of her neck (if she wasn't fighting too bad). It seemed to make her come out of them quicker. My cousin used to have the same type of thing, just not at the degree that Sayge had them, but his mom actually got him a water bed to keep his body temperature down. The mattress was keeping his body warmth in. Anyhow, I don't know if this will work for anyone else, but I guess it's worth a try. Like I said, the Dr gave a hundred reasons behind these things. My husband & I just kept our eyes open for any similarities when they would happen, something she ate, drank, weather, television watching. As I said what we discovered with her is that HEAT was the trigger. Hope that helps. :/

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