Night terrors in children are frightening to witness. However, the child experiencing them will likely have no memory of the incident whatsoever. According to Web MD, approximately 1 to 6 percent of children between the ages of 3 to 12 years experience night terrors. Here we will discuss why children have night terrorsand what you can do to keep your child safe when they occur.
Night Terrors Vs. Nightmares
Night terrors and nightmares are not the same thing. Nightmares occur during the sleep stage known as REM, or rapid eye movement. During a nightmare, the child will sleep through the incident, but may awaken immediately afterward feeling afraid. Night terrors, however, occur when a child is in the non-REM stage, which is a deeper sleep that occurs 30 to 90 minutes after falling asleep. During a night terror, the child may scream, run, talk and look absolutely petrified, yet they will have no recollection of what they were fearful of when they wake.
Signs of Night Terrors
It would be difficult not to recognize night terrors in children. Unless you are an extremely heavy sleeper, the child will very likely wake up everyone in the house during their night terror. Signs of night terrors include:
– Rapid heartbeat.
– Running (yes, running while they are sleeping).
In other words, your child will not remain in their bed during a night terror. The child actually lives out what is happening in their mind, and it can be very disturbing to watch. Read about my personal experience with night terrors in children here.
Why Children Have Night Terrors
Children have night terrors for a variety of reasons, ranging from something as mild as lack of sleep, to something as serious as sexual or physical abuse. Factors that can contribute to night terrors may include:
– Over-stimulation. If your child has a hectic schedule, consider cutting back on some of their activities.
– Not enough sleep. If your child is not getting enough sleep, consider moving their bedtime up to a more reasonable time or incorporating a nap time during the day.
– Stress. If there have been recent changes in your child’s life, stress may be what is behind the night terrors. Separation, divorce, moving to a new home, a death in the family or even starting school can be very stressful to a child.
– Medication. Children sometimes begin to have night terrors when they start a newly prescribed medication. If your child has recently been prescribed something new, speak with your pediatrician immediately to rule out the medicine as a cause.
– Abuse. In a very small percentage of cases of night terrors in children, abuse is the underlying factor. If you suspect this may be the case with your child, speak with his or her pediatrician.
– Nocturnal seizure disorder. Most children grow out of their night terrors in time. However, if your child continues to experience frequent night terrors, speak with your pediatrician about the possibility of nocturnal seizure disorder. While this is very rarely the cause, it is possible that your child has this disorder, which can be controlled with proper medication.
How to Keep Your Child Safe During Night Terrors
Since you never know when a night terror may occur, you’ll need to be vigilant about keeping your home safe to prevent your child from injuring him or herself during an incident. Follow these simple safety tips:
– Pick up anything off the floors that can be tripped over.
– Keep all pathways clear.
– Remove rugs and mats that your child may trip on.
– Install double locks on entry doors.
– Block stairways with safety gates.
– Do not attempt to hold your child down during their night terror.
– An adult should wake up and supervise the child through the duration of the night terror.
Now that you know why children have night terrors, take comfort in the fact that most children outgrow them in time. For some children, they are just an unusual part of growing up. The good news is that your child won’t remember the night terrors themselves, and it will not cause additional anxiety or stress during waking hours.
“Night Terrors,” WebMD.
Personal knowledge and experience.