Advice For Parents

How to Stop Kids’ Night Terrors

April 18, 2024   By JM Carpiso

Kids’ night terrors can be a distressing experience for both the child and the parents. These episodes, often characterised by intense fear and confusion, can disrupt the family’s sleep routine.

Understanding what causes night terrors is the first step towards managing them. Factors such as stress, overtiredness, and certain medical conditions can trigger these episodes.

In this guide, we will explore practical strategies to prevent night terrors. From establishing a soothing bedtime routine to optimising the sleep environment, these tips can help reduce the occurrence of night terrors.

Let’s look at ways how you can handle kids’ night terrors better.

Understanding Night Terrors in Children

Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, are episodes of intense fear and agitation that occur during sleep. Unlike nightmares, which occur during REM sleep, night terrors happen during the deeper stages of non-REM sleep.

Children experiencing night terrors may scream, thrash around, and appear terrified, yet they remain asleep. These episodes typically last a few minutes but can extend to half an hour. Interestingly, children often have no memory of the event upon waking.

Common in children aged between 3 and 12 years, night terrors can occur sporadically or follow a regular pattern. It’s important to note that while distressing, night terrors are not usually a sign of a serious medical issue.

Key characteristics of night terrors include:

  • Intense fear and agitation
  • Screaming or thrashing around
  • Increased heart rate and sweating
  • Confusion upon waking
  • No memory of the event

What Causes Night Terrors?

The exact cause of night terrors is not fully known. However, several factors are believed to contribute to their occurrence.

Overtiredness is a common trigger for night terrors. A child not getting enough sleep or having an irregular sleep schedule is more likely to experience these episodes. Stress and anxiety can also play a role, as they can disrupt a child’s sleep patterns.

Genetics may also be a factor. If a parent experienced night terrors as a child, their offspring are more likely to have them, too. Additionally, certain medical conditions and medications can disrupt sleep and potentially trigger night terrors.

Symptoms and How They Differ from Nightmares

Night terrors and nightmares can seem similar, but they have distinct differences. Understanding these can help parents and caregivers respond appropriately.

Nightmares occur during REM sleep and often result in the child waking up. They can usually recall details of the dream and may have difficulty returning to sleep due to fear. On the other hand, night terrors occur during non-REM sleep, and the child remains asleep throughout the episode.

Symptoms of night terrors include:

  • Intense fear and agitation
  • Screaming or crying
  • Rapid breathing and increased heart rate
  • Sweating and flushed skin
  • No memory of the event upon waking

Remember, while both can be distressing, they are common aspects of childhood sleep and usually not a cause for concern.

Practical Strategies to Prevent Night Terrors

While night terrors can be distressing, there are practical strategies parents can use to reduce their occurrence. These strategies focus on promoting healthy sleep habits and reducing stress and anxiety. Remember, each child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another.

Establishing a Soothing Bedtime Routine

A consistent bedtime routine can help signal to your child that it’s time to wind down and sleep. This routine could include activities like reading a book, taking a warm bath, or listening to calming music. Try to keep the routine the same each night, including weekends.

Also try to make your child’s bedroom feeling safe by providing the right sleep essentials like a good bed and blanket.

Avoid stimulating activities close to bedtime. This includes watching TV, playing video games, or engaging in intense physical activity. These can make it harder for your child to relax and fall asleep.

Optimising the Sleep Environment

The sleep environment plays a crucial role in promoting restful sleep. Ensure your child’s room is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature. Try using blackout curtains or a white noise machine if needed.

A comfortable kids bed and pillow are also important. If your child fears the dark, a dim night light can provide reassurance without disrupting sleep. Remember to safety-proof the room to prevent injury during a night terror.

Diet and Exercise Considerations

Diet and exercise can also impact sleep quality. Regular physical activity during the day can promote better sleep at night. However, avoid intense exercise close to bedtime as it can be stimulating.

A healthy diet is important too. Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime as they can cause discomfort and disrupt sleep. If your child needs a bedtime snack, opt for something light and healthy.

During a Night Terror: Dos and Don’ts

If your child experiences a night terror, it’s important to stay calm. Remember, night terrors are usually more distressing for the observer than for the child. Your child may not remember the episode in the morning.

Avoid trying to wake your child during a night terror. This can cause confusion and may prolong the episode. Instead, ensure they are safe and wait for the episode to pass.

If your child gets out of bed during a night terror, gently guide them back without waking them. Avoid restraining them unless they are at risk of hurting themselves.

How to Comfort Your Child Safely

Comforting a child during a night terror can be challenging. It’s important to remember that they are asleep, even if their eyes are open. They may not recognize you and can become more agitated if you try to hold or soothe them.

Instead, speak softly and reassuringly. Your presence can provide comfort, even if your child seems unaware of it. Keep your distance unless they are at risk of injury.

After the episode, help your child settle back into sleep. They may not remember the night terror, so there’s no need to discuss it in the morning unless they bring it up.

When to Seek Medical Advice

While night terrors are usually harmless, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional if they become frequent or severe. This is especially true if your child’s sleep is consistently disrupted or if they pose a danger to themselves or others during episodes.

Recognizing When It’s More Than Just Night Terrors

Night terrors can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. If your child’s night terrors are accompanied by other symptoms such as daytime sleepiness, difficulty breathing during sleep, or frequent nightmares, it’s important to seek medical advice. These could be signs of a more serious sleep disorder.

Consult a sleep expert to help find out what is the underlying cause of this disturbance.

Supporting Your Child and Family

Night terrors can be stressful for the entire family. It’s crucial to maintain a supportive and understanding environment. Remember, your child is not at fault for these episodes.

Coping as a Family and Finding Support

Dealing with night terrors can be challenging. Seek support from friends, family, or support groups. Sharing experiences and coping strategies can be immensely helpful.

Conclusion: Patience and Persistence

Managing night terrors in children requires patience and persistence. It’s a phase that many children outgrow with time.

Remember, every child is unique. What works for one might not work for another. Keep trying different strategies until you find what works best for your kid.

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