Nightmares occur in some children at various points in childhood. Sleep terrors or night terrors go beyond a typical nightmare to a confusing and upsetting state. Night terrors don’t occur during REM sleep like nightmares. According to Kids Health by Nemours, sleep terrors are more of a reaction than an actual nightmare, usually occurring as the child moves to a different phase of sleep.
A child experiencing a night terror remains asleep, although she may look like she is awake. Staring straight ahead without responding or acknowledging you is a sign of a night terror. Your child might sit up, scream, cry, become irritated, move around, sweat, have an increased pulse or get out of bed. The child won’t remember the night terror when she does wake up, either immediately after the episode or in the morning.
Sleep terrors typically affect kids between 4 and 12, according to the Mayo Clinic. Some people continue experiencing night terrors as adults, but most kids outgrow the terrors. An episode usually starts during the first part of the night, often two to three hours into your child’s sleep period. The night terror lasts usually only a few minutes.
The central nervous system controls the brain’s sleeping and waking activities. When the central nervous system receives too much stimulation, night terrors may occur, according to Kids Health. A child with changes in his life is a potential candidate for night terrors. Your child’s night terrors might increase if he experiences illness, excessive stress, lack of sleep or new medications. Some children also experience night terrors if their sleeping environment is different.
Handling Sleep Terrors
Most children will not wake from a sleep terror no matter how hard you try to wake them. Children sometimes shout out or talk during the terror but cannot hold on a conversation since they aren’t aware of the situation. Restraining your child could cause injury. Make sure she is safe, especially if she is moving around. Wait out the night terror to make sure she falls back asleep in a safe position.
Because overstimulation often causes sleep terrors, you can help avoid the episodes by creating a calming environment. Teach your child stress reduction techniques and work to reduce stress in the home. A regular bedtime routine that gives your child enough sleep is also a help in reducing night terrors. If your child’s night terrors become worse or you are concerned about the episodes, talk to his doctor.