A 3-year-old girl diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia presented with a 1-month history of recurrent nightmares. Symptoms of the disturbance conformed to a clinical picture of slow wave arousal night terrors, or pavor nocturnus. Behavioral treatment aimed at reducing anxiety related to maternal separation and medical procedures, and at reinforcing appropriate sleep patterns was effective in reducing and eventually eliminating the symptoms. Follow-up revealed no return of nightmares or existence of new problems.
A brief review of descriptive, etiological and treatment aspects of night terors is presented and the hypothesis is put forth that such episodes represent a psychological reaction to trauma. The importance of being aware of age variables in the expression of children's anxiety is noted as is the value of careful tabulation of outcome data.