A loud scream wakes me from a deep sleep. Knowing that it has come from my 3 year old I jump out of bed and run to her room to see what is wrong. As I sit next to her on the bed, she kicks out at me, thrashing her arms around and not wanting to be comforted.
It is then I realise that she is having a night terror.
Night terrors occur in non REM sleep, when we do not dream. Night terrors usually happen in the first part of the night, when the deepest sleep occurs, about 2 hours after going to sleep. So unlike a nightmare children don’t remember them.
Children with night terrors do not awaken and it is often more upsetting for the parent to watch than it is for the child.
During a night terror children can scream, look terrified or stare straight ahead with their eyes open. You may find that their heart is pounding and pupils may be dilated. They may also find that they are covered in sweat.
What to do if your child has a night terror
- You might find if you try to wake your child that they are confused and disconnected from what is going on. In fact they may try to push you away if you try to hold them.
It is best to make sure that they are safe and to not interfere, as this can intensify it.
- Monitor them to make sure they are safe and wait until they calm down.
- Remain as calm as possible, while you are helping them to resettle. Verbally reassuring them that they are okay.
Lasting from 5 to ten minutes, after a night terror the child returns to a deep sleep. Though parents may feel sleep deprived the next day, they don’t seem to effect the child.
Night terrors usually start between four and twelve years of age and are not associated with emotional problems. Sleep disorder clinics actually report that the most common trigger of night terrors is “sleep deprivation” or lack of sleep. That is why night terrors often appear when a child has a fever or their sleep patterns have been disrupted, like when they are on holiday.
Ensuring that your child is getting enough quality sleep is the best way to avoid night terrors happening. Popping them into bed half an hour early is a good way to help this.
For more help and support with your child’s sleep head over to Jane Frazerhurst Early Years Sleep Consultants Facebook page.