Night Terrors

Night terrors differ from normal nightmares in that they are a dramatic form of sleep disturbance. It can often be disturbing for a parent to watch and for the child themselves. Although night terrors can be alarming they are normally not a cause for concern and tend to gradually subside.

When we sleep we go through several different stages. Typically, the rapid eye movement (REM) stage is when we are dreaming, but night terrors do not actually occur during this stage as they are not a dream but a sudden reaction of fear from one transitory stage of sleep to another.

Your child may experience a night terror after they have been sleeping for hours. During a night terror you might see your child suddenly sit up and scream and then return back to sleep. Some children have more severe night terrors and are inconsolable, which can be very distressing for parents. Fortunately, as night terrors are not dreams your child may not have any recollection of what has happened during the night.

Causes of night terrors

Night terrors are often caused by an over aroused central nervous system (CNS) during a child’s sleep. This may be due to the fact that your child’s brain is still developing and taking in all the activity of the day. In many cases night terrors run in the family.

Children who are more susceptible to having night terrors are:

  • Children who are unwell
  • Children who have been bullied or are stressed
  • Children who have taken new medication
  • When sleeping in a different environment

How to cope with a night terror

Night terrors can often be upsetting and distressing for a parent to witness. Some parents feel helpless as it can be difficult to console the child to soothe them back to sleep. There are, however, a few things you can do to help prevent your child from experiencing night terrors:

  • Find out if there is anything bothering your child and try to relieve their stress
  • Establish a bedtime routine
  • Allow your child to get adequate rest
  • Try to avoid letting your child stay up late

What if my child’s night terrors do not subside?

In most cases your child’s night terrors will go away on their own, but if your child is constantly experiencing night terrors it may be worth visiting your doctor. Your doctor will be able to offer additional advice and may even refer you to a sleep specialist.

Guide to Sleeping for Mother and Baby:

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