Parents consider their children as the heart of their homes so when night terrors become apparent, their concerns are justified. Even when children are largely unaware about their experience with night terrors, their parents become scared because of the associated symptoms.
But there’s good news for parents and their children with night terrors! Here’s what you need to know about them including the symptoms, causes and solutions.
The Scary Symptoms
Night terrors are characterized by an affected child becoming highly agitated during his deep sleep stage. These usually affect children between 18 months and six years of age while experts estimate that up to 3% of children will experience their symptoms at certain times. Children who live with family members who have sleep disturbances are also more likely to experience them.
Emphasis must be made that night terrors aren’t signs of an underlying mental health issues, such as depression. But these are more likely to occur when children are undergoing abnormal levels of stress. Night terrors can also occur during daytime naps, thus, their alternate term “sleep terrors”.
Since affected children rarely wake up during night terrors, they are less stressed than their parents by their experiences. Parents, who are usually the ones who witness the often scary signs, are more shaken by their children’s actions during the night terrors.
Children may do the following actions in the throes of night terrors.
- Scream or cry suddenly
- Kick their legs and thrash about
- Look scared and pale
- Call for their parents but cannot see them even with their eyes open (i.e., stare with wide-open eyes while still sleeping)
- Breathe and perspire heavily
- Push their parents away even when they are being comforted
- Rapid heart rate
- Relax suddenly, perhaps briefly look around them, and quickly return to sleep
While these are scary to look at, parents should remember that their children are neither dreaming nor fully awake. In fact, affected children will neither remember nor be affected by their experience! This can be a relief for parents, an understatement since childhood trauma isn’t a walk in the park.
Night terrors are different from nightmares. In nightmares, the affected children wake up from sleep and even remember their scary dreams.
The Possible Causes
Researchers have yet to determine the causes of night terrors. But researchers have also identified a few risk factors including:
Night terrors appear to be inherited (i.e., runs in families). Many children who have them also have family members who experienced night terrors in the past or who experienced sleep talking or sleepwalking episodes.
Children between the ages of 4 and 7 years old are more likely to experience night terrors, but there are also cases when children as young as 3 can have them. Their night terrors happen on and off until their puberty during which time their symptoms typically stop. In case your older teen or adult family member still experience night terrors, you should have them checked by their doctors.
Night terrors seem to occur more frequently during stressful times although the affected children may not show signs of stress themselves. The stress can come from events like starting school, going through their parents’ divorce, and being bullied in school, to name a few. Even physical illness can bring on the night terrors.
Fortunately, night terrors aren’t linked to physical and psychological issues later in life, a big relief to concerned parents. These are also temporary in nature since children grow out of them, so to speak.
The Effective Solutions
But even with such consolation, concerned parents will want to adopt the following measures to ease night terrors in their children. You can also choose which of these measures you can adopt depending on your child’s needs and wants.
- Go to your child and comfort him, even when he appears to push you away. You should stay with him to make sure he’s safe and wait for him until he can go back to sleep.
- Avoid waking up your child during his night terrors since it can make him more agitated. You will find that if you wake him up, he will be more confused so it will take a longer time to settle him down again.
- Sit nearby when your child becomes more agitated when you talk and/or touch him. Wait for him to go back to sleep.
- Avoid discussing whatever happened the night before as your child will not remember it and, thus, become more embarrassed.
- Try to be at his bedside 10-15 minutes before his night terrors strike, if possible.
Best of all, you should establish healthy sleeping habits in your affected child. You can adopt bedtime routines including taking a warm bath before bedtime, telling children’s stories, and kissing him good night. You will find that less stress may translate to less night terrors and less anxiety on your part.
Night terrors may be scary for parents but these are typically temporary in nature. Just be there, literally and figuratively, for your child and these will soon be over. Be sure to give him a comfortable bed, such as from Casper, as well since it’s important in restful sleep.