Understanding Night Terrors.


What are night terrors?

Night terrors are a type of sleep disruption. A child having a night terror may suddenly sit upright in bed, cry, scream, and thrash about with his eyes wide open without being truly awake. He’s/she is caught in a in between. Being asleep and awake, he/she is unaware of your presence. The child isn’t likely to respond to anything you say or do.

Researchers think of night terrors as mysterious glitches in the usually smooth transitions we make between sleep stages. An episode can last anywhere from a few minutes to almost an hour. When it’s over your child may abruptly fall back to sleep with no memory of the incident

If your child has a night terror, he/she won’t remember it. On the other hand, a nightmare leaves your child fully awake. Not only can he/she remember his/her dream and sometimes talk about it. But he/she may also seek out and feel comforted by your presence.

Children also commonly have night terrors during the first third of the night, during deep non-REM sleep. Children have nightmares during dream REM sleep, which usually happens during the last third of the night.

The easiest way to tell the difference between a night terror and a nightmare is to ask yourself who’s more upset about it the next morning. “If the child is more agitated, he/she had a nightmare. If you’re the one who’s disturbed, he/she probably had a night terror

Now if your child is having a night terror don’t try to wake him/her. And expect that your efforts to comfort him will be refused. A child having a night terror can’t be calmed down, and if you try to hold him it may make him wilder.

It’s unsettling to witness a night terror. Unless your child is in danger of hurting himself, don’t attempt to physically comfort him. Just speak calmly, put yourself between him and anything dangerous and wait for the storm to pass.

There’s no definite way to prevent night terrors because no one knows exactly what causes them. What is known is that, on their own, night terrors don’t mean a child has a psychological problem or is even upset about something.

Some factors make night terrors more likely – if your child has a fever or isn’t getting enough sleep, for example. Solving any other sleep problems your child has, such as getting up in the middle of the night, and making sure she has a regular bedtime and gets enough hours of sleep may help ward off night terrors.

Certain conditions that keep your child from getting enough rest, such as restless legs syndrome or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), may also trigger night terrors. Check with your child’s doctor if you think one of these conditions might be contributing to your child’s night terrors.