Watching your child experience night terrors can be very traumatizing indeed. Let’s try to understand this strange phenomenon and learn a few techniques to avoid their occurrence.
Night terror is a type of sleep disorder which occurs during the third or fourth stage of the Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep. It is characterized by an abrupt disruption of sleep, with the person waking up completely confused and frightened. The attack lasts anywhere between a few minutes to half an hour. Once it’s passed, the person slips back into the quiet sleeping mode.
Babies experiencing night terrors are not as uncommon as previously assumed. Doctors opine that this disorder affects children as young as 3 years, and eventually fades out as they reach adolescence. Parents often tend to confuse night terrors with nightmares, whereas in the actual, the two are completely different.
While nightmares typically refer to bad dreams that are vividly remembered when the person wakes up, following are the symptoms of night terrors –
- Suddenly waking up from a state of deep slumber
- The child seems wide-awake, but is actually asleep
- Increased rate of heartbeat and breathing
- Inability to talk and express feelings for some time
- Inability to explain the trauma experienced
- Profuse perspiration
- Violent behavior
What causes night terrors?
As with all disorders, it is necessary to know the reasons causing them in order to be better equipped to deal with them. The most common reason is believed to be lack of sleep and factors related to it. Babies who do not get adequate sleep are prone to these attacks. On an average, children below the age of 3 years need to sleep for 13 to 14 hours throughout the day. Any disruption in their daily schedule of meal times and nap hours can also trigger such attacks. Fatigue and stress brought upon due to lack of sleep is ultimately responsible for these attacks in babies.
It has been observed that night terrors affect boys in a higher number, as compared to girls. The symptoms usually peak at the age of 3, and begin to decline on their own after the age of 7.
What happens during an attack?
Watching a child experience a night terror is terribly shocking to any parent. More so when the child is screaming in apparent fear, and nothing works to calm him/her. It can bring about a feeling of helplessness in the parent’s mind. During the course of the attack, an otherwise quiet child appears to have transformed to someone different, and does not respond to any consolation offered by the parent. Even then, the parent should go on assuring the child in a soft voice, and try to put him/her back to sleep. In fact, it is essential that the child goes back to sleep as soon as possible, since it is believed that sleep deprivation is what brings about this attack. Adequate sleep plays an important role in getting rid of this problem.
You can note the time of the attack in babies and wake him up a few minutes before its occurrence for a few days, to improve his condition. Additionally, educate your family members, babysitters or nannies about this condition so that they are better equipped to deal with these attacks in your absence.
The good news is that this phenomenon is considered relatively harmless by doctors, as it doesn’t have any life long implications attached to it. Also, there are ways to keep night terrors at bay, and they are easy to implement.
This Can Help…
- Provide a stress-free environment for the child to sleep in
- Adjust the lighting according to the child’s comfort level
- Ensure a consistent sleeping schedule, and stick to it
- Also, the child’s entire routine (meal times and play time) should be consistent
- Give him a few sips of warm milk or chamomile tea before bedtime
- Cuddle your child as you put him/her to sleep
- A warm bath before bed time can be helpful
Does it require medical attention?
While night terrors may not be classified as a dangerous condition, it would be a good idea to talk to the pediatrician in order to rule out any other ailments. The home remedies mentioned above have been proven to work well in most cases. Also, it seems to go away as the child ages. However, in certain cases, your child’s doctor may prescribe medication if it is observed that these episodes are disrupting the regular lifestyle.
Night terrors should not be a cause of major concern for parents, as children tend to outgrow them. As these attacks are majorly fatigue-induced, simple home remedies work wonderfully well to get rid of them. Adequate sleep and a healthy lifestyle is all that your child needs.