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Understanding Night Terrors and What to Do About Them

As a Baby and Child Sleep Consultant, one of the most distressing concerns I encounter from parents involves night terrors. Understanding what night terrors are and how to handle them can be a beacon of hope in the midst of nighttime turmoil. This guide aims to shed light on this sleep disorder, providing insights and strategies to help both parents and children navigate through these dark moments.

What Are Night Terrors?

Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, occur during the non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep, typically within the first few hours after a child falls asleep. Unlike nightmares, which happen during REM sleep and can often be recalled, night terrors are characterized by intense fear, screaming, sweating, confusion, and even sleepwalking, with little to no recollection of the event the following morning.

These episodes can last from a few minutes up to 30 minutes and are more common in children aged 3 to 12 years old. It's important to note that night terrors are a part of a child's development and usually aren't a sign of a deeper psychological issue.

Causes of Night Terrors

The exact cause of night terrors is not well understood, but they're thought to be related to over-arousal of the central nervous system during sleep. Several factors can increase the likelihood of night terrors, including:

  • Sleep deprivation

  • Stress

  • Fever

  • Sleep schedule disruptions

  • Certain medications

It's also worth mentioning that there might be a genetic component, as children who have relatives with a history of sleep disorders, including night terrors, are at higher risk.

What Can Parents Do?

While night terrors can be alarming, there are several strategies parents can employ to help manage and reduce the frequency of these episodes:

Maintain a Consistent Bedtime Routine: A calming bedtime routine can help reduce stress and make night terrors less likely. This can include a warm bath, reading a book, or gentle music.

Ensure Adequate Sleep: Lack of sleep can trigger night terrors, so make sure your child is getting enough sleep according to their age.

Minimize Stress: Try to reduce stress in your child's environment. Talk about any worries they might have during the day and provide a comforting and secure atmosphere.

Keep the Environment Safe: If your child tends to sleepwalk during these episodes, ensure their sleeping environment is safe. This can mean securing windows and doors and removing any hazardous objects.

Scheduled Awakenings: If night terrors occur at a consistent time, gently waking your child 15-30 minutes before the expected time can help prevent the episodes. This technique disrupts the sleep cycle and can prevent the onset of a night terror.

Night terrors can be a frightening experience for parents. However, with understanding, patience, and the implementation of strategies to promote healthy sleep habits, most children outgrow night terrors with time. Remember, you're not alone, and support is available to guide you through these challenging nights.

If night terrors are only one part of the sleeping problems for your child, please reach out. We’ll talk through the whole picture and I can share with you how we can say goodbye to night terrors AND teach your child to be a confident and independent sleeper in as little as 2 weeks!

Schedule your complimentary sleep evaluation call today to learn more:

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