We have all experienced nightmares, but only an estimated 1-6% of children experience night terrors, making it tough for parents to understand their child’s behavior. Night terrors occur 90 minutes after falling asleep during the non-REM sleep phase; regular dreams occur during the REM phase, thereby making night terrors distinctively different from dreaming. Think of night terrors as pure, unbridled fear, a terrified reaction brought upon sleepers. There are no clear dream sequences and sleepers do not remember their terrors after waking up. The symptoms typically disappear after children reach adolescence, but can cause worry and distress while they’re going through it.
Causes are varied, including, but limited to sleep deprivation, stress, sleeping in unfamiliar environments, medications, head injuries, and anesthetics. Terrors are marked by sleep walking, screaming, sitting up, aggressive behavior, heavy breathing, and a racing pulse. The symptoms are similar to those of nightmares but can be worse as they can keep a child from going back to sleep. Parents should use restraint and delicacy when consoling their children. Dim the lights, speak gently to your child, and soothe them back to sleep.
Measures can be taken before and after night terrors strike. First and foremost, reducing stress is key. Create calming bedtime rituals, like bathing, storytelling and snacking. Always make sure your child receives ample sleep time, and not just during the evening, but throughout the day. Waking up your child 90 minutes into her sleep may disrupt the sleep terror cycle.
The help of a doctor might be necessary if the terrors are routine or increasing in severity. If your child fears sleep, starts exhibiting dangerous behavior or night terrors persist into adolescence, seek the help of a professional immediately.
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