Although nightmares are a normal rite of passage for children, night terrors is
Night terrors are most common among children ages 3 to 12, affecting about 1 to 6% of this group. Nighttime baby terrors are rare, but can affect children as young as 18 months. Read on for five coping mechanisms to try if your child experiences night terrors.
Signs of a Night Terror
According to WebMD, night terrors occur when the child is transitioning from Stage 3 to Stage 4 REM sleep, usually about 90 minutes after first falling asleep. In addition to crying, fear
When the episode occurs, the child usually sits up in bed, may be confused or disoriented and will not respond to parents even though he or she seems to be awake. Some children thrash around in bed, moan and make noise or attempt to get up. Episodes typically last between 2 and 30 minutes.
Night terrors affect both genders and all races equally. However, they are more likely to occur when children are experiencing stress, do not get enough sleep and/or have a fever or are taking medication.
Coping With Night Terrors
Some children only have occasional night terrors while others persistently experience disturbed sleep. Parents can try these five strategies to manage the anxiety and sleep disruption that accompany night terrors.
- Support good sleep hygiene. Sleep disturbance can often be avoided by establishing consistent sleeping, waking and nap times. For infants, try a warm bath and a book each night before lights out. This routine helps signal the brain that it’s time to rest. You should also make sure your child gets enough sleep each night. Babies ages 6 to 12 months need 11 to 12 hours of sleep each night and 2 to 4 hours during the day. Children still need 11 to 12 hours of sleep up to three years of age, but usually shorten and/or eliminate naptime.
- Resist the urge to disturb your child. Although he or she appears to be agitated, these episodes are not dangerous. Do not try to awaken or physically comfort your child. Although he or she appears to be awake, children are sleeping during night terrors and are unaware of your presence. Speak calmly and stay with your child until the fear passes.
- Remove items from the bedroom that could cause injury during an episode. For example, if your child thrashes during night terrors, consider placing the mattress on the floor or removing a hard headboard. Clear the floor of objects that could cause falls if your child gets out of bed. Lock doors and windows and place a baby gate at the top of the steps.
- Disrupt the night terrors. This technique can be used if your child often experiences night terrors around the same time. The child should be woken up 15 minutes before that time and kept awake and moving around for at least five minutes. Have him or her use the bathroom if necessary. Do this for seven consecutive nights to break the pattern of night terrors. This strategy is sometimes called scheduled awakening.
- Seek medical attention. Even though night terrors are not harmful for children, they can sometimes be caused by other health issues such as a seizure disorder, sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, according to Baby Center. Your child’s pediatrician will take a complete medical history and conduct a physical exam. Sometimes, other tests may be required to confirm or rule out night terrors, such as a sleep study or electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures brain activity. Seek immediate medical attention if a night terror is accompanied by muscle stiffening or spasms, drooling or daytime fearfulness.
Although sleep terrors cannot be treated, taking these steps can make it easier for the family to cope with nighttime baby terrors. Most children outgrow this condition by the time they reach puberty, with episodes peaking between age 3 and 4. Open communication with your child’s pediatrician can help identify underlying health issues that may contribute to disrupted sleep.