Having a child that suffers from night terrors can be terribly frightening for parents. You feel like you’ve just witnessed your child in a scene from a horror movie and they won't even remember what went down that night when they wake in the morning. They won’t even realise they’ve had a bad dream.
Night terrors commonly occur in children between the ages of two and twelve. After which age, they tend to grow out of them. Lasting for up to 40 minutes at a time, a common cause is not having enough good-quality sleep and/or your child is not feeling well. Certain medications can also increase the likelihood of night terrors. Night terrors happen in healthy children and are just part of the development of deep sleep patterns in young children. Try not to be concerned, they tend to run in the family and they are not usually associated with serious emotional or psychological problems.
What are the symptoms?
- Night terrors start with a sudden scream where your child is partially awakening from a state of deep non-REM (non-dream) sleep that occurs in the first few hours of sleep.
- They can happen more than once in the same night
- While your child's mind remains asleep, your child's body awakens (may thrash their arms and legs around) - their eyes may be open, their crying and distressed and their face fully expressive giving the impression that they are totally awake.
- Your child won't respond to your efforts to comfort them and will seem to not recognise you which can make the experience all the more upsetting for parents.
- They may try and get out of bed
- They will experience fast breathing and heart rate, be very sweaty and have a glassy looking stare
- Once the night terror finishes your child will look relaxed and simply fall quickly back into a deep sleep not remembering in the morning what had happened.
Night Terrors vs Nightmares
Night terrors are less common and quite different from nightmares. Night terrors happen during the first few hours of non-dream state sleeping, children sleep through it and don’t remember it when they wake in the morning. While nightmares are scary dreams that tend to happen in the second half of the night during phases of REM sleep and the child will awaken, distressed and usually remember what has happened.
What can I do to help my child?
- Try not to wake your child during a night terror this can make them disorientated and confused, if you let it happen, they will wake up not knowing what occurred.
- Monitor your child's movement so they don’t harm themselves or others - Their eyes won't be registering what they 'see' and they might try and leave the bed.
- Keep your house safe at night time. Lock windows and doors, and clear the bedroom floor of objects so they don’t step on things or trip over.
- Overtired children are more prone to night terrors so make sure that your child is getting enough good quality sleep and you have a consistent bedtime routine. Glow Dreaming Sleep Aid has a very high success rate with reducing the number of night terrors.
- If you are starting to see a pattern on when a night terror would start, try gently waking your child beforehand. This will change their sleeping pattern and possibly avoid a night terror.
- Don't discuss your child's night terrors with them the next day. As they will have no recollection of the episode, you could make them feel anxious about going to bed again.
- If your child is staying overnight elsewhere, warn the people caring for your child that they may have night terrors. Give them a copy of this blog so they can be prepared.
- It can help to keep a sleep diary that describes when and where your child sleeps, and how often they have night terrors. You can share this information with your GP or health nurse if you’re concerned that your child isn’t getting enough good-quality sleep, or your child’s night terrors are frequent. Our Glow Sleep Specialists can help you through this, you're not in this alone.
When to seek additional help
Your child may need to see your GP if:
- the night terrors are very violent and there is a risk of injury to your child, yourself or others
- the night terrors are happening frequently
- your child is very sleepy during the day.
- If your child is having a night terror along with breathing problems like snoring, talk with your GP about an ear, nose and throat assessment.