Night Terrors

What are Night Terrors?

Night disorders occur due to the changes of sleep stages. Each stage causes the brain to react in a certain way. We have REM and non-REM. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement. It is during the Rapid Eye Movement period that dreaming occurs. However, unlike Nightmares, Night Terrors happen during deep non-REM sleep.

When children suffer from Night Terrors, they are not actually dreaming but it seems to be a result of the transition which occurs from one type of sleep to another.

What is the difference between a Nightmare and a Night Terror?

A Nightmare generally occurs in the early morning. Your child will feel scared and upset and will get comfort from being near to a parent or main carer. They are usually able to explain some of what was happening during the nightmare.
Night terrors occur in the early stages of sleep, about 90 minutes after falling asleep and will not respond to comfort from a parent. Night Terrors are more distressing for a parent as the child will not remember anything about it.

How common is it?

15% of 2-6 year olds will at some point have a Night Terror.

What will happen?

The most common observations of a child having a Night Terror are:

  • Loud scream.
  • Sitting bolt upright in bed.
  • Sweating and rapid heartbeat.
  • Eyes wide open looking scared.
  • Acting distressed or upset.

After several minutes, your child will usually calm down themselves and return to sleep. They will not recall the events the following morning.

What can I do to reassure my child during an episode?

  • Move anything which is near to them which they could hurt themselves on.
  • Remain with them until they are back to sleep to ensure that no harm comes to them.

What should I not do?

Do not try to wake them. They will be more unsettled and scared as you have woken them at a period where they are not aware of what is happening. By waking them, they will be anxious because of your concern.

Once the anxiety attack is over and they are calm, it is safe to wake them. You can encourage them to use the toilet and then settle them again. I have found that, by waking the child at the point that they are relaxed and calm, this can prevent another terror occurring during the same night.

How can I reduce the risk of Night Terrors occurring?

  • Turn the TV off and stop all ‘Technology items’ from being used by the child an hour prior to bedtime as overstimulation and the effect this has on the nervous system can contribute to Night Terrors.
  • Make sure your child is getting the correct amount of sleep required for their age.
  • Make time to talk to your child about any worries or anxieties they may have – this can be during family time at tea time: everyone, including adults, says one thing that has caused a bit of worry and one thing which went really well during the day or something they have learned.
  • Do not give juice after tea time or any sugary snacks.
  • If your child is unwell and has a fever try to keep them cool, for example by administering paracetamol (if age appropriate).
  • Have a bedtime routine which is repetitive, consistent and calming.
  • Put a few drops of lavender oil or chamomile oil in the bath.
  • Make sure your child has daily opportunities to have physical activity as hormones are released which relax body and brain after exercise.

What next?

If your child has Night Terrors or another sleep disorder, please get in touch with Julie to discuss further.