How to help your child through a Night Terror incident

SSPost8:9:18Does Your Baby Have Night Terrors?

It’s 1:00 am and your child is hysterical. When you rush to calm him, he seems confused, afraid, and inconsolable. In the morning, he doesn’t remember anything happening, though his eyes were open throughout the entire episode. It weirds you out, right? Especially if you couldn’t get your child to calm down. Was he experiencing a night terror or a nightmare? Let’s explore the differences.  

What happens during a night terror?

A night terror (sometimes called sleep terror) is a sudden reaction of fear caused by the central nervous system during sleep. Some of the behaviors you might expect to see during a night terror involve:

  1. Sitting up in bed
  2. Screaming
  3. Shouting
  4. Thrashing around
  5. Acting upset or scared
  6. Sweating
  7. Increased heart rate

Your child might seem awake or afraid of someone or something in his room but is not aware of what he is doing. It is difficult to wake a child during a night terror. After a few minutes, he should calm down on his own.

Can babies have night terrors?

Kids between 4-12 years old most commonly have night terrors. However, babies as young as 18 months have been reported to have a night terror. Children typically outgrow night terrors by the age of 12 as the nervous system matures.

The difference between nightmares and night terrors

Just how are night terrors different from nightmares? Though the symptoms can certainly be similar, a key difference is whether your child remembers the dream when awake the next morning. With nightmares, kids usually remember part or all of the dream because it happens in the latter part of sleep in the early morning hours. This is usually in a lighter phase of the sleep cycle. Night terrors, however, occur during the first 2-3 hours after falling asleep when transitioning to REM sleep. Night terrors occur in only 3-6% of children. Alternatively, nearly all children have a nightmare at some point. Interestingly, night terrors seem to run in the family; close to 80% of kids who experience night terrors inherited them from a parent.

What to do during a night terror

Once you’ve established your little one is having a night terror rather than a nightmare, these three suggestions will help you both get through it:

  • You should not try to wake your child or hold him down during a night terror.
  • Turn on a light and speak in a calm and gentle voice.
  • If your child does wake up, he will be disoriented, confused, and sometimes more difficult to soothe, so it’s best to patiently wait it out.

Preventing night terrors

You can help your child avoid night terrors by:

  1. Making sure he gets plenty of rest – Night terrors occur more often when kids don’t get enough sleep.
  2. Putting him to bed before he gets overtired.
  3. Reducing stress.
  4. Establishing a soothing bedtime routine.

While there are no treatments for night terrors, you should notify a doctor if your child experiences more than two per week, injures himself or someone else during an episode, has a night terror during the second half of the night, or exhibits signs of a seizure, as it could be an indicator of a sleep disorder. If night terrors are frequent, ensure your child’s sleep environment is safe by removing breakable items and closing windows and doors. Even though they are alarming, night terrors are not a serious condition and your child will outgrow them eventually.

Have you or your child ever experienced a night terror? Tell us in the comments!

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