Night Terrors in Children

Understanding Night Terrors in Children and What You Can Do

Parents are constantly challenged with getting children to bed and establishing good sleep habits. As children grow, they may only wake occasionally during a nightmare or scary dream.

However, some sleep disturbances are more intense, unpredictable and difficult to manage. Night terrors, sometimes referred to as sleep terrors, occur in 3 to 6 percent of kids between the ages of 4 and 12, and are more common in boys.

A night terror is asleep disruption that causes children to suddenly scream, thrash, sit up or sleepwalk in the middle of the night. Night terrors in children usually occur in the first 2 to 3 hours of sleep.

Unlike nightmares, children usually will not remember what happened the next day. Night terrors may cause kits to breathe rapidly, sweat and open their eyes, although they are actually in deep sleep. Parents may become alarmed, but the condition is not usually a cause for medical concern.

Potential Causes

Illness, medication or stress can over-stimulate the central nervous system during sleep, resulting in a night terror. Sometimes, emotional trauma or a stressful event such as a new school or a divorce can cause terrors for up to a 6-month period. Older children usually do not experience them because their central nervous systems are fully developed.

During a Night Terror

When a child is experiencing a night terror, he or she will not be responsive to comforting measures. The child's breathing and heart rate may be elevated, but waking the child may actually make it more difficult to return to sleep.

If the child is sleepwalking, protect the child against injury from running into objects or falling down stairs. Children usually are able to return to normal sleep after several minutes.

Preventing Night Terrors in Children

Prevention is the best defense for reducing the chance of night terrors. During the day, reduce the child's stress level with routines, including periods of activity and adequate rest.

Help maintain an early bedtime by not over committing children to extra-curricular activities. As the central nervous system matures, terrors should become less frequent.

If your child has a one-time or rare occurrence, discuss current medications and overall health issues with your family doctor. If sleep terrors persist, consult a medical professional who specializes in sleep disorders.

For more information, click here: Sleep Terrors

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