Night terrors is a common word parents use to explain crying episodes their children are having, the reality is they don't usually occur until toddler hood around 3-4 years of age, and they aren't that common.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A NIGHT TERROR?
Night terrors are episodes of screaming, intense fear and flailing while still asleep and are often paired with sleepwalking. Like sleepwalking, sleep terrors are considered a parasomnia — an undesired occurrence during sleep.
During a night terror, a child might:
- suddenly sit upright in bed
- shout out or scream in distress
- have faster breathing and a quicker heartbeat
- be sweating
- thrash around
- act upset and scared
After a few minutes, or sometimes longer, the child simply calms down and returns to sleep.
Your child may not recognize you despite their eyes being open, and if you try to comfort them during an episode and will be generally non responsive. This is because technically, they are still asleep.
Night terrors usually last up to 15 minutes and can occur more than once a night, but usually in the first part of the night during the first episode of slow wave sleep.
Why do night terrors occur?Night terrors are caused by over-arousal of the central nervous system (CNS) during sleep.
Night terrors have been noted in kids who are:
- overtired, ill, or stressed
- taking a new medicine
- sleeping in a new environment or away from home
- not getting enough sleep
What to do during a night terror?
Unfortunately science tells us that children having a night terror don't usually respond to verbal cues or being comforted, or even your attempts to wake them up.
Your child won't recall the night terror and they are usually not actually scared unlike a nightmare.
There is no treatment needed for night terrors except to keep the child safe as they can thrash, kick, and walk or run around the house.
If your child isn't sick, or toilet training, over tiredness is often the culprit and going to bed earlier can help ease the symptoms of night terrors, especially on busy days or during times of illness.
Try to reduce stress and anxiety by having a nice relaxing bed time, and give your child plenty of wind down time to prepare to sleep.
WHAT ARE NIGHTMARES?
Nightmares are scary dreams that awaken children and make them afraid to go back to sleep. Nightmares may happen for no known reason, but sometimes occur when your child has seen or heard things that upset him or her. These can be things that actually happen or are make-believe. Nightmares often relate to developmental stages of a child: toddlers may dream about separation from their parents; preschoolers may dream about monsters or the dark; school-aged children may dream about death or real dangers.
How to help your child with nightmares
Help your child talk about the bad dreams during the day.
Protect your child from seeing or hearing frightening movies and television shows.
Leave the bedroom door open (never close the door on a fearful child).
Provide a "security blanket" or toy for comfort.
Let your child go back to sleep in their own bed.
Do not spend a lot of time searching for "the monster."
During the bedtime routine, before your child goes to sleep, talk about happy or fun things.
Read some stories to your child about getting over nighttime fears.
- Calling upon fairies as children go to sleep at night is a psychologist endorsed method to help ease worries. Switch on your Little Belle nightlight as you tuck your child into bed, or place your fairy house wishing box near their bed. Make a magic call out to the fairies to come and give them good dreams and watch over them during the night. Let them know if they wake in the night that fairies will be nearby.