Are you distressed about your child’s constant night terrors? Many mothers of young boys feel helpless not knowing how to comfort their young ones during these episodes. Some people confuse night terrors and nightmares though these two are not the same. You can easily calm down a child who wakes up in the middle of the night because of a nightmare but night terrors are inconsolable.
Doctors also refer to them as sleep terrors, and in most cases, they are not a sign of any underlying medical condition. Night terrors occur in children below 12. In most cases, they tend to outgrow this condition as the nervous system continues to mature.
Only a small percentage do not outgrow night terrors and live with them even when they become adults. We will look at this condition deeply to give you a clear understanding of why it occurs and how you can manage episode. Find out more!
What are night terrors and what causes them?
A night terror is a dramatic sleep disruption which involves a child waking up few hours after sleeping screaming and thrashing around. They may sit upright and shout without any valid reason. The condition causes symptoms such as sweating, increased heartbeat and getting upset or scared. It occurs for a few minutes before the child finally goes back to sleep on their own.
Kids who have night terrors do not recall this behavior the next day since it occurs during the deep sleep phase. This is also a characteristic that distinguishes a night terror from a nightmare since children recall nightmare and can explain their scary dreams in detail.
During sleep, a child’s central nervous system may get over-aroused leading to night terrors. We sleep in several stages namely the rapid eye movement phase and non-rapid eye movement phase. When you get in bed and start getting sleepy, you first enter the non-REMphase then move to REM phase after some hours when dreams occur.
These episodes occur during the transition from the first phase, non-REM into REM. It happens 3 hours after you tuck the child in bed.The transition between the stages of sleep should be a smooth one but to some kids, it causes the fear reaction that we call night terrors.
Who experiences night terrors?
Not all children experience this condition when they are young. Certain factors trigger it in some children. The first cause could be genetics. Sleepwalking and night terrors sometimes go hand in hand. Children in families with a history of sleepwalking are likely to experience night terrors.
It may also happen due to excessive fatigue in a child. They may have spent most of the time during the day playing and therefore struggle to transition between sleep stages. Night terrors can also occur due to stressful life events such as the death of a close relative or fever in a child.
Consuming new medicine especially those that interfere with the central nervous system may also disrupt sleep and cause this form of disorientation. Some form of anesthesia administered during surgery can cause night terrors.
An uncomfortable sleep environment and taking excess caffeine before bed are also triggers of night terrors. Sleep deprivation can affect the quality of sleep in a child. Statistics report that night terror mostly affects boys than girls. While some children experience this condition once, others get it frequently.
How to help a child experiencing night terrors
Though a night terror may not be a life-threatening condition, it can be distressing for a parent. You may not be able to offer consolation during episodes, but you can help your child manage episodes. Use the following tips
Don’t wake them up
First, do not wake up during night terrors since this can increase the fear and confusion in a child. It may even take long for the child to finally calm down and return to sleep if you disrupt a night terror.
Identify a pattern
Maintaining a sleep diary can help you identify a pattern of sleep terrors for you to prevent it from happening. If you notice that your child gets night terrors at the same time every night, you can conduct anticipatory awakenings. This involves waking up your child before night terrors occur to prevent an episode.
Make the sleep environment comfortable and safe
You can handle factors such as sleep deprivation by ensuring that your child sleeps in a comfortable environment. Get a new mattress from Costco mattress to boost the quality of their sleep. It can help them receive adequate sleep and eliminate fatigue. Remove any stimuli that may interrupt their sleep such as noises.
Ensure that the environment is also safe to prevent them from injuries if they thrash around. Lock any external doors and windows and set alarms on them. Do not use bunk beds on a child who experiences night terrors. Get rid of any sharp objects to prevent them from self-harm.
Help them curb stress
If your child is bothered about something, talk to them with the help of a mental health professional. Do not assume that they are fine even if they don’t open up a lot to you. You can also try to identify the stress around them and look for ways to eliminate it.
Establish a sleep routine
Do not let your child extend past bedtime. Set the rules and let them know when it is time to sleep and wake up. A sleep schedule can help them get enough sleep and transition to the different stages of sleep with ease. If a child has trouble falling asleep smoothly, sing them lullabies or conduct bedtime stories to help them relax.
Seek medical help
Get help from a doctor in severe cases. They may treat any medical condition that could be contributing to night terrors such as a sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea. A therapist can offer mental treatment through hypnosis or cognitive behavioral therapy. Relaxation therapy also helps. Sometimes, antidepressants or benzodiazepines are also used to manage sleep terrors.