Night terror – Symptoms and prevention
What are night terrors?
Night terrors are sleep disturbances in which a child may suddenly sit bolt upright in bed, cry, scream, moan and mumble. They might have their eyes wide open but won’t be truly awake. They are in the middle of being asleep and being awake which makes them unaware of your presence and won’t be likely to respond to anything you say or do. An episode of night terror can last anywhere from 2 to 40 minutes. When it’s over, it’s normal for your child to fall back to sleep abruptly with no memory of the incident.
Night terrors in children are distinctly different from the much more common nightmares. Night terror symptoms are frequent and recurrent episodes of intense crying and fear during sleep.
Night terrors typically occur in children ages 3 to 12 years.
A child might have a single night terror or several before they stop. Most of the time, night terrors simply disappear on their own as and when the nervous system matures.
Who Gets Night Terrors?
An estimated 1% to 6% of children experience night terrors. This disorder usually resolves during adolescence.
There are two main types of sleep. They are Rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM).
Non-REM sleep has stages, and night terrors happen during the transition from stage 3 to stage 4. They typically occur approximately 90 minutes after the child has fallen asleep.
People often tend to confuse night terrors with nightmares. Night terrors are distinctly different from the common nightmares, which occur during REM sleep. Unlike nightmares, most children do not recall the incident after a night terror episode, and they usually do not remember the episode the next morning. Night terrors are frightening episodes that can disrupt family peace.
What Are the Symptoms of Night Terrors?
Children who go through night terror would have long/short episodes of crying and fear during falling asleep. In addition to these, children with night terrors may also experience:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased breathing rate
Who Gets Night Terrors?
Children who show the following symptoms may be more prone to night terrors than other kids.
- Overtired or stressed
- Put on some new medicine
- Sleep deprived
- Sleeping in a foreign environment/ away from home
- Having caffeine (too much)
How Can I Help My Child?
Parents usually feel helpless when they fail to comfort their kids. Such upsetting moments may lead you to harming the peace of your home. But you must know there are ways you can try to calm your child in everyday life. Although, the best way to handle a night terror is to wait it out patiently and make sure your child doesn’t get hurt physically, mentally or emotionally. Children often return back to their routine in some time.
Sometimes your kid may experience a night terror episode but will not be awake. At such times, it’s best not to try to wake kids. Children who do wake up during experiencing a night terror are likely to be disoriented and confused, and may take longer to settle down and go back to sleep.
There’s no treatment for night terrors, but you can help in preventing them.
- Reduce your child’s stress
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine
- Make sure your child gets enough rest
- Help your child to settle when they are overtiring themselves
- Don’t let your child stay up too late
If the situation is quite serious and your child tends to wake around the same time every night, you can try waking them up about 15–30 minutes before then to see if that helps to prevent it.
When to Seek Medical Care
Do not worry! You are not the only parents around whose most frequent concern is sleep disruption. It is common in most parents with their children in initial period of growing up. Half of all children develop a disrupted sleep pattern serious enough to warrant a visit to the pediatrician. During their evaluation, the doctor may also be able to exclude other possible disorders that might be causing night terrors.
The best thing is to understand night terrors. Read about them. Share things with other parents. Understanding night terrors can ease your worry and help you as well to get a good night’s sleep. But if night terror episodes happen repeatedly, talk to your doctor about whether a referral to a sleep specialist is needed.