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What Are Night Terrors and How to Deal with Them?

Night terrors are scary experiences, for both parents and children. Generally, occurring between the ages of three to six, most children will experience a night terror at some point. The most important thing to realise, as a parent, is that night terrors are completely normal and your little one will grow out of them. However, if terrors become a regular part of your child’s nocturnal pattern there are some things that you can do to help reduce the stress they cause your little one.

What Is a Night Terror?

Differing slightly from nightmares, a night terror is when your child experiences feelings of utter terror or dread whilst they are sleeping. They can manifest themselves by your child screaming, shouting and showing extreme signs of panic and fear. They may appear awake, with their eyes open, but they will not be fully conscious.

Night terrors generally occur during the first few hours of sleep and can last for as long as 15 minutes.

Why Does My Child Have Night Terrors?

Whilst night terrors can happen to any child, they are often more common in children who have a family history of them or sleepwalking. Terrors can be triggered by things that cause your child to have a much deeper sleep than normal, such as certain medications or a fever.  Similarly, they can also occur when your child is woken suddenly from a deep sleep, perhaps by a sudden noise, a full bladder, excitement or anxiety.

How Should I Deal with My Child’s Night Terror?

As distressing as it is seeing your child experiencing a night terror, you must stay calm and wait until the terror has finished. Although your first instinct, as a parent, is to wake your child, try to stop yourself. Pre-emptively waking them can cause them to become more agitated as they may struggle to recognise you straight away, and thus become even more distressed. The only time you should intervene is if they are not safe whilst the night terror happens.

However, once the night terror has finished you can wake them up. Ensure they are fully awake before they go back to sleep, as if they return to a deep sleep too quickly they may have another night terror.

The next morning, talk to your child to see if they have anything that is on their mind. They won’t remember the night terror but chatting to them will give you a chance to see if they have any underlying worries. These fears may be causing the anxiety, which is triggering the night terrors.

If your child is experiencing frequent night terrors, then start to take note of the times that they are happening. If they occur at a specific time every night, try waking your child 15 minutes before that time every night for seven days. This may help disrupt their sleep pattern and stop them having night terrors.

Ensure that their bedtime routine is relaxing, running them a warm bath, reading them a bedtime story, anything that will help make sure they are calm when they go to bed. Also, take a look at their room, taking note of your children’s furniture, like the lighting. Remove any unnecessary stimuli, such as bright lights or sounds, that may disturb your child, causing them to wake from a deep sleep abruptly thus triggering the terror.

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