Matthew was having a night terror, a type of sleep disorder called a "parasomnia." These episodes, which look like nightmares but aren't, are most commonly experienced by kids between the ages of 4 and 12 but can happen at younger ages. They're more frightening for parents than they are for kids, who don't have any memory of them the next morning.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
Nightmares, on the other hand, occur during REM sleep. The child truly awakens and may call out, "Mommy, I had a bad dream." He also may have trouble going back to sleep afterward due to the dream's scary content. And he'll usually remember it the next day.
Many children have one or a few night terrors and then never have one again. Other children have several during childhood. Typically, they're outgrown before adolescence.
Avoid trying to shake the child awake, advises Dr. Busman. It usually doesn't work and even if he does wake up, it could take him longer to settle down and go back to sleep. "Instead, speak softly and calmly, and gently lead him back to bed. You just need to wait it out."