EXPERT REVEALS WHAT TO DO IF YOUR CHILD IS EXPERIENCING NIGHT TERRORS
Nightmares and night terrors are often confused. However, the differences between the two, like when they occur and their effects, are easy to see.
- Time of Occurrence: Night terrors happen during Stage 3 of sleep and are thought to be caused by an over-aroused central nervous system. Nightmares generally occur during the last half of sleep in REM, when most of our dreaming occurs. During this stage is when our brain waves are most active and our sleep cycle is spent more time in REM than in the first half of the night, increasing our experiences of vivid dreams.
- Awareness: It is quite common for people to have no recollection of experiencing a night terror, while nightmares are typically easy to recall.
- Alertness: Someone experiencing a night terror will seem alert and awake even though they are still asleep. During a nightmare, there is no change in alertness, and you often cannot tell if someone is experiencing a nightmare.
- Age: Children are most likely to experience night terrors and they are much rarer in adults. Nightmares, on the other hand, are common among both children and adults.
But how do we cope with night terrors?
Occasional night terrors are not typically harmful to the child, and since most people grow out of them, they often are not a cause for concern.
However, you should consult a doctor if your child is experiencing night terrors more frequently, disrupt the sleep of you or others, lead to safety concerns or injury, cause excessive sleepiness or problems functioning during the daytime, or continue beyond teen years into adulthood.
If you witness a child having a night terror, it is best to not try and wake them up. Interfering can make the night terror worse or even prolong the episode. Staying calm and letting the night terror play itself out is the best thing you can do for someone experiencing parasomnia.
That said, it is good to ensure the child remains safe from injury by gently restraining them if they attempt to get out of bed. If they do, gently guide them back to bed and keep them away from stairs, walls, and windows.
To prevent night terrors, especially in children, keep a regular sleep schedule, make sure the child is not excessively tired, and reduce their stress levels by engaging in relaxing activities before bedtime.
Dr Ehrnstrom notes, “There can also be some benefit to briefly waking your child approximately 15-30 minutes before the night terrors typically occur.”