Night terrors in toddlers and children: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment
A child develops quickly in the initial years with rapid physical and mental changes. One of the changes your child undergoes, now with a better understanding of the world around him is sleeping alone, in the nursery or away from parents. Different and distinct experiences characterise the growth years of a child; night terrors being one of them.
What Are Night Terrors?
A night terror is a disruption which occurs during the deepest stage of sleep. These happen when the child wakes up partially during the deep, non-REM stage of the sleep and this condition can last for several minutes. They predominantly affect children below the age of 12.
What Causes Sleep Terrors
While there is no specific reason for night terror, they can occur as a result of high stress or lack of sleep. Witnessing conflict at home or outside can also act as a trigger. The condition can also be caused due to the following reasons:
- Being excessively tired or sleeping in a new environment
- Unwarranted medications
- Head injuries
Signs and Symptoms of Night Terrors
In case of night terrors, you might notice the following signs of the condition in your child:
- The child might seem scared and panic-stricken
- The child may scream, shout or cry
- He may babble or talk incoherently
- He may not recognise you when you try to comfort him
- The child may experience intense fear or terror from an unknown source
- Will not be able to remember what happened the next day
- The child might wet the bed due to fear
- He may have widened eyes with dilated pupils due to fear
The symptoms include:
- Elevated blood pressure
- Rapid breathing
- Racing heartbeat and excessive sweating
Treatment for Night Terrors
Trying to comfort the child experiencing night terrors is usually sufficient to soothe and end the condition. If a child does not respond while they are asleep, parents should not try to wake them up and instead allow the situation to subside.
If night terrors are caused due to any underlying conditions or head injuries, parents should consult a doctor to provide necessary therapy and medication to the child. A remedy for night terrors in toddlers includes consulting and advice from a certified professional.
Is Night Terror Different From a Nightmare?
Yes, it is! A nightmare is experienced during REM sleep which is usually in the early morning hours, whereas, night terrors are experienced in the first few hours of the night, during non-REM sleep.
A child may remember and recall a nightmare, but will not remember having night terrors on most occasions.
How to Prevent Night Terrors
Night terrors can be taxing on the child and also on the parents. There is no cure for night terrors, but a few precautions can be followed to prevent and reduce the condition.
- Ensure that your child has a stress-free day.
- Create a simple and relaxing bedtime routine which includes talking to the child and reading out bedtime stories.
- Make sure that your child gets ample rest.
- Ensure that the child sleeps on time and does not stay up late too often.
- Keep the child away from fights and situations which will leave a negative impact.
Can a Change in Lifestyle Help in Reducing Sleep Terror in Children?
Changing your child’s routine and incorporating a more relaxing and healthy lifestyle can help in reducing sleep terror. You can start by creating a calm environment in your child’s room by incorporating a relaxing bedtime routine. Ensure that your kid follows a fixed daily method which has a mix of physical activities and free time to relax and pursue a hobby.
Getting more sleep will also help the child to remain stress-free and impede the occurrence of night terrors.
Tips for Dealing With Sleep Terrors in Kids
Night terrors in babies are not uncommon. Childhood night terrors can be challenging to handle as there is no treatment for them. Listed below are a few tips to deal with this condition.
- Observe the period after which your kid experiences night terror after falling asleep. Awaken your child 10-15 minutes before the expected night terror and do not let them sleep for 5-10 minutes and continue this routine for a week.
- Ensure that no item in the vicinity can harm the child at such times.
- Do not try to wake up your child. Let the situation die down by itself.
- Do not attempt to comfort the child physically as this can make them lose control.
- Keep the floor clear and latch all the doors and windows of your room and do not leave the child unattended during this phase.
Night terrors in kids have to be dealt with maturity, patience and love. Parents should not panic and deal with the situation calmly. Making necessary changes to your child’s routine will help reduce the frequency. In case of no improvement, it is best to refer to a doctor for advice.