Night Terrors in Children

Night terrors or sleep terrors is a common sleep disorder in kids and occur most commonly between the ages of two to six years old. Unlike a nightmare, a child does not recall the episode in the morning nor can one awaken a child while they are experiencing a sleep terror.

night terrors in children

The symptoms of night terrors include a child crying out, thrashing of arms or legs, and breathing fast. This condition is considered quite normal for kids and they will shortly outgrow it. 

Night terrors are more of a sleep problem for parents than it is for the child. It can be disturbing to hear your child cry out, but the best thing to do is just to try and comfort them. Try calming them by stroking their legs or arms and speak soothing words. Do not try to wake them up. Although the parents sleep is disrupted, the child continues to sleep through the episode and normally wakes up quite rested. 

I was reminded of the symptoms of night terrors when we were on vacation with our grandchildren. The three year old was in the bedroom next to us, and I could hear her crying in the middle of the night. I ran into her bedroom and found her sitting up, thrashing her arms and legs and crying with her eyes closed. Unable to wake her up, or soothe her, I just sat on the bed next to her until she calmed down.

She quickly went back to sleep. However, she had several episodes every night.

Night Terror Symptoms

Her symptoms were very typical of night terrors in children such as:

1. Intense crying characterized by fear

2. Thrashing around

3. Difficulty waking the child

4. Duration of a few minutes

5. Frequent episodes

6. No awareness of the parent (or grandparent's) presence

7. No talking

8. No recollection of it in the morning

Causes of Night Terrors in Children

There are several stages of sleep including REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM. Nightmares occur during REM sleep and unlike night terrors, a child can be woken up and comforted by the awareness of a parent's presence and words. Night terrors occur during non-REM stages about 2-3 hours after the child falls asleep. 

Sleep experts believe that an over-aroused or immature, still developing, Central Nervous System may be implicated in night terrors. 

Other possible causes of night terrors are:

night terrors in children

1. Sleeping in a new environment and away from home - such was the situation for our granddaughter who was on vacation with us.

2. Being overtired - not getting enough sleep from no nap, going to bed later, getting up earlier. Our 3 year old granddaughter was getting to bed later than normal and sometimes missing her nap.

3. Overly stressed by family situations, or changes in environment or routine such as a new pre-school or day care.

4. Being sick with a fever, cold or flu can overstress the immune system and lead to night terrors in children

5. Reaction to a new medication

Night Terror Treatment

Night terror treatment may involve addressing some of the causes listed above such as being overtired.

1. Be more diligent about putting the child to bed early and for younger children putting them down for regular naps.

However, while the night terror is happening, most experts agree that the best thing to do is:

2. Sit close to the child to be sure that they don't get hurt from their thrashing around.

3. Don't try to wake the child up. Unlike a nightmare, it's very difficult to wake up a child during a night terror and it's not helpful anyway.

Fortunately, most children naturally grow out of them as their central nervous system matures, but if they continue check with their pediatrician.

Go from Night Terrors in Children to Sleep Disorders in Children

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