Some children from as young as three-years-old experience night terrors. Night terrors are recurrent episodes of intense crying and fear whilst sleeping. With a nightmare children may remember the details of the dream, with night terrors there is often no recollection. It can be very upsetting for parents and siblings, as the child sits up or thrashes about in bed crying and screaming. It may appear that the child is awake when in fact they are still asleep. Often becoming confused, disoriented and unaware of their parents as they come to help.
A night terror frequently starts two to three hours after the child has gone to sleep and can last from a few minutes up to half an hour. Often coinciding with a fever, night terrors can also be caused by stress, a traumatic life event, over stimulation, sleep deprivation and medication.
Signs and symptoms of a night terror include – shouting out or screaming in their sleep; sitting up suddenly whilst still asleep; thrashing about in bed; faster breathing; rapid heart rate; sweating; sounding upset and scared; lack of memory of the event when they wake
Some children may experience a single night terror whilst others have them more frequently.
If your child has a night terror it is best to let them continue sleeping whilst you ensure their safety. After the episode the child will relax and return to normal sleep. Waking a child only leads to disorientation and confusion and may take them longer to settle and return to sleep.
Most children grow out of night terrors by the time they reach adolescence and they rarely have a long lasting psychological effect, however this is of little comfort to parents who wish to speed up there recovery.
If you are concerned for your child you can help them get a better nights sleep by:
Reducing your child’s stress: Stress can come from life events, movies, gaming consoles, excessive screen time or phone use. Illness, injury, too much or too little exercise and from poor diet.
Help them relax before bed: Establishing a bedtime routine that includes a bath, hair brushing or reading a book together can help both parent and child to unwind.
Help them feel safe: By giving them a security, blanket, stuffed animal, a dim night light and checking under the bed or other locations if they ask, can all help
Ensure they are getting enough sleep – Having a consistent bedtime and breakfast time supports your child to get the recommended nine to 12 hours of sleep per night.
Make time to listen: A quiet activity such as drawing or cooking together or a back or foot massage can give opportunities for kids to talk.
Accept that what they tell you as their truth: Often children don’t talk because they feel they aren’t listened to. Rather than trying to solve their problems let them know you are listening by nodding your head, acknowledge their feelings quietly with a simple “Mmm” “Ooh” “Ugh” or repeat back to them what you heard them tell you.
It is important for adults and children to process their own thoughts and feelings and come to their own solutions. Being able to speak out loud without the interference of others ideas and solutions helps us to make sense of our own thoughts and feelings and process past events.
If you are concerned that your child is dealing with fear, grief, stress, anxiety or a traumatic event that is affecting their sleep Amanda Roe can be contacted on 087 6331898.