Night Terrors in Children

little girl in bed

Has your child ever had an episode during sleep that included intense crying, kicking, thrashing, sweating, breathing quickly, rapidly beating heart rate, screaming loudly, getting out of bed and running throughout the house, being difficult to waken, or experiencing a profound fear? If so, your child probably had a night terror, also referred to as a sleep terror.

Who Experiences Night Terrors?

Up to 6 percent of children have a night terror at one time or another, according to WebMD. Children between the ages of three to 12 years are the most likely to get them. Although night terrors in adults are also an undesired sleep disorder, they occur in a far less percentage in adults than children. Fortunately, most children outgrow their night terrors by the time they reach their teens.  If you’re a parent of a child who has night terrors, you should know that in most cases, night terrors in children aren’t a cause for a concern, albeit scary to witness.

How Are Night Terrors Different Than Nightmares?

A person who has a nightmare wakes up, and is able to recall various aspects, and sometimes vivid details, of his or her dream. Thankfully, most children don’t remember anything relating to their sleep terror. (Adults may remember bits and pieces of their night terror.) Most night terrors in children last for a few minutes to 30 minutes, and begin approximately 90 minutes after the child falls asleep.

What to Do If Your Child Has Night Terrors

Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital of Stanford recommends these tips should your child experience a night terror.

1) Assist your child in falling back to sleep. Keep a soothing, calm tone, telling your child that they are at home and everything is ok. Don’t try to wake your child by shaking or speaking loudly. It’s okay to turn on the lights, so your child won’t be afraid of shadows. Cuddle and hold your child if this doesn’t aggravate his or her terror.

2) Prevent your child from getting hurt. If your child has wandered out of bed, protect your child from windows, stairs, or sharp objects that may harm him or her.

little boy sleeping peacefully

How to Prevent Night Terrors in Children

According to AskDrSears.com, 90 percent of sleep terrors in children can be prevented using the following exercise: Keep track of the time period  between when your child falls asleep and the onset time of the night terror. Then, prior to the anticipated time of the night terror, awaken your child, get him or her out of bed, and make sure he or she is fully awake for five minutes. Do this for a week, on seven consecutive nights. If the night terrors come back, repeat this procedure for another seven nights.

In addition, there’s a belief that night terrors are more likely to occur if your child is sleep deprived. So, be sure that your child is getting enough sleep, and keep your child on a regular sleep schedule.

Night terrors in children can be frightening for parents to witness, but understanding them can help reduce your worry. However, if night terrors continue to happen even after performing the exercises to prevent them or if they especially violent or long-lasting, it’s important to speak with your physician or a sleep specialist.

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