What is a Night Terror?
Night Terrors are a form of sleep disruption that occurs during non-Rapid Eye Movement (non-REM) sleep or the deeper phases of sleep. Unlike, nightmares, which occur during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep or lighter phases of sleep.
When do Night Terrors occur?
Night Terrors are more likely to occur in the earlier phases of sleep. Parents often report that the terror will occur before the parent goes to bed themselves. So, prior to midnight.
How do I know it is a Night Terror and Not a Nightmare?
Night terrors can be really distressing for parents. Your child is likely to present with screaming, very distressed, thrashing about. They may sweat and have rapid breathing and heart rate. Generally, they will sit bolt upright, with eyes wide open. They appear to be awake rather than asleep. Your child is somewhere between being asleep and awake.
What should I do if my child is having a Night Terror?
- Don't try and wake them. As you may have already experienced, trying to wake them actually can make the terror worse or continue the terror for longer.
- It is best to be supportive, present, and ensure that your child is safe. Remove anything from around them that they might bang off or hurt themselves on. Do not touch your child, simply make sure they are safe.
- Wait it out. This can be very hard for parents who are dealing with terror. It is best to sit and be patient and allow the terror to run its course. How long do I wait? As long as it takes. Some terrors will go on for minutes and others longer. Tag teaming with another caregiver may be a means of support during this.
- Remember that your child won’t recall the terror. They will have no memory of it. It is more distressing for you than it is for your child.
What can cause Night Terrors?
The exact causes of night terrors are not known but continually studied. It is thought that too little sleep or overtiredness can contribute to night terrors in children.
What should I do if my child is having regular Night Terrors?
If your child is having regular terrors, I would recommend that you start to keep a log and track them. Take notes on how they present, the time of the terror, and the duration. Coupled with that start keeping a food and activity diary for your child to see if you can find any correlation between something that is happening in the daytime with when a terror presents itself.
Ultimately, if you are experiencing regular night terrors with your child and it is bringing you concern link in with your family doctor. Make sure you are armed with your log or diary of what has been happening so that you can immediately show your doctor the frequency of the terrors. Sometimes, they do require further investigation, and a referral to a pediatrician or sleep clinic may be recommended.