As parents, it can be quite distressing to think that our children are being affected by night terrors. Night terrors occur in the early stages of a night’s sleep cycle, in the moments when we are moving from a deep REM sleep to a lighter REM sleep when dreaming begins. They are classed as a disturbance to sleep but differ greatly from regular nightmares; there are several signs to watch out for, which, if present, will confirm that your child is suffering from them.
Common characteristics of night terrors:
· Night terrors tend to happen within the first few hours of sleep (before midnight)
· They are more common in families with a history of sleep disturbances, such as sleepwalking
· Your child may scream, thrash around, appear confused or try to leave the bed, all with their eyes open
· They may be hot and sweating
· They will seem awake
· They will have no memory of the night’s events or be able to explain why it happened
If any of the above sounds familiar, do not despair – night terrors are particularly common amongst
3 – 8 year olds, though that probably won’t be of much comfort to you if your child frequently suffers from them. The best thing a parent can do is learn how to deal with episodes of night terrors in order to effectively put an end to them.
How to deal with night terrors:
Research shows that the best way to react to a night terror is to comfort and allow your child to calm down and settle after an episode, remembering that they were not fully awake whilst having them. Once he has settled back down into what seems to be a restful sleep, it is possible, if not likely, that he may have another night terror. The way to solve this is to wake him up and put an end to that particular sleep cycle in order for him to begin a new one. Make sure your child is completely awake before resettling (perhaps ask him a question or two) in order to ensure that they are detached from the previous sleep. More often than not, your child will sleep through until morning.
Finally, it might be beneficial to try to discuss with your child whether they have any concerns that may be on their mind in order to put them at ease prior to the next sleep that night. Not every night terror is caused by worry or frustration but it cannot hurt to check!