Not to be confused with nightmares, night terrors are described as episodes of screaming, intense fear, and flailing while still asleep. They tend to occur more frequently in children and result in a child partially waking up, sitting up, and/or crying. They can be caused by nightmares but are more often caused by an over-arousal of the CNS (central nervous system) when asleep. Typically, they occur two or three hours after a child falls asleep.
Unlike a nightmare, a child may be unable to articulate what it is they’re afraid of. This makes it difficult if not impossible to console them the same way you would with a nightmare (see our blog on nightmares for how to help a child with nightmares). In many cases, the fear is an intense feeling with no physical connection. Again, this makes consoling against it a difficult if not impossible task.
What can be done?
- Inadequate sleep can lead to night terrors, so be sure to have your little one stay well rested.
- Have a regular and relaxing bedtime routine.
- Create a safe environment.
- Help to alleviate stress as too much stress can also lead to night terrors.
- Offer comfort as best you can.
- When all else fails: Look for a pattern and try to disrupt it by waking your child up 15 minutes before the terror would usually occur. Then keep them awake and calm for about five minutes before letting them fall back asleep. This can help to reset the brain and allow for a peaceful night’s rest. If they still occur, professional assistance may be needed.