Have you ever found your child sitting up in bed screaming, appearing to be awake but totally confused, disoriented, fearful and unresponsive to you? Comforting words or touch do not work?
Pretty scary, isn’t it?
Night terrors typically occur in children ages 1-12 with a peak onset around 3.5 years old.
Sleep is divided into 2 categories: rapid eye movement (REM) and nonrapid eye movement (non-REM). Non-REM sleep is broken down even further into 4 stages, progressing from stages 1-4. Night terrors occur during the transition from stage 3 non-REM sleep to stage 4 non-REM sleep, usually beginning approximately 90 minutes after the child falls asleep.
A night terror will last 1-2 minutes on average but can on for as long as 30 minutes.
During this time you won’t likely be able or want to wake your child. He or she would likely become scared and agitated especially by your reaction to the night terror.
Offer comfort if you can and help him/her return to sleep once it is over. You just have to wait it out and make sure he/she doesn’t hurt him(her)self. Don’t speak to or try to soothe your child, and don’t try to shake or startle him/her awake or physically restrain him/her — all of which could lead to more frantic behavior. In 15 to 20 minutes, your child should calm down, curl up, and fall into a deep sleep again.
Your child will not likely remember the episode in the morning.
One of the biggest contributors to night terrors is sleep deprivation.
Each of us has a certain sleep requirement every night that we need to keep us functioning at our optimum level. When we fall short of this requirement we incur “sleep debt” which prevents us from functioning at our best. If this “debt” isn’t addressed, it adds up over time and significantly alters our productivity, mood, recovery and even our safety, none of which are healthy!
An early bedtime is always best. Instead of letting your 5-year-old stay up until 8:30 pm, try putting the child to bed at 7:30 and you might just see those night terrors disappear.
Ensure you have a calm and soothing bedtime routine full of rituals that are comforting and soothing, i.e. a bath, massage, stories, songs and lots of cuddles.
Limit TV time and violent movies and video games before bed.
Night terrors are a mysterious disturbance that can be avoided by a few tweaks in your scheduling of your child’s sleep and activities.