My daughter is starting school soon, and although she is excited, I can’t help but feel concerned at how she will handle the changes. Long before we made arrangements, we made sure that we did activities, which will help her with the transition. She seems pretty excited about knowing other kids, but I was in doubt whether she will be fine without seeing us for awhile. My concern became a reality, when her screams bolted us awake at the middle of the night. She was asleep, yet she was thrashing in bed, and crying so loudly. We tried to comfort her, but she was not responding. At that moment, I realized that she was having a night terror.
Nightmares and night terrors are actually different. A child having a nightmare may typically wake up from it feeling afraid, and looking for reassurance from parents. The child may also share details regarding the dream to parents. In contrast, a child with night terrors may scream, or thrash about while still remaining asleep. The episode usually lasts for a few minutes, and it occurs during deep sleep. Aside from this, a child may also experience sweating, and an increase in heart rate and respiratory rate.
Night terrors occur two to three hours after the child has fallen asleep. During the episode, it may be difficult to rouse the child to wake up. Oftentimes, a child wakes up after a night terror not remembering anything regarding the episode. While this may be distressing for parents, night terrors are actually less common as compared to nightmares. And it affects only a small percentage of children aged 4 to 12 years old.
There are factors that may play a role in children having night terrors. Children who are too tired, or who had too many activities during the day, may have a tendency to have night terrors. For some children, stressful events may even trigger night terrors. These may stem from problems at school, or even at home. Illness can also be a contributing factor, especially if it is accompanied by fever. Medications affecting the brain and spinal cord may also trigger night terrors in children.
For children having night terrors, it is very important that their environment is safe. Clear all sharp or fragile objects from your child’s room, and make sure that you don’t have your child sleep in bunk beds. Since children with night terrors may charge blindly in the room, or around the house, make sure that stairs are blocked with safety gates.
It may also help if you talk to your child regarding the things that bother him or her. It will help if you can shed light on some matters, which your child may perceive differently. You can also try to tone down the activities prior to bedtime. Choose relaxing activities for your child like reading books, or solving puzzles. A warm bath may also promote relaxation.
Since fatigue can contribute to night terrors, make sure that your child is getting enough sleep. You can even set his bedtime earlier, to ensure that he gets the right amount of sleep. Night terrors may also occur at the same time each night. Try to observe the pattern, and wake your child at least 15 minutes before it can occur.
Although night terrors aren’t serious, some parents may still be concerned. Take your child to your health care provider if you notice that the night terrors have become more frequent, or when you notice that it follows a particular pattern. To add to that, medical consultation is also needed if it is accompanied by other signs and symptoms, or if it has resulted to disturbing behavior, or injury.
As for my daughter, her night terrors have disappeared after we have addressed her fears. With a lot of reassurance, she can now sleep better through the night. I know that there are many challenges ahead, but I have come to understand that children go through stages. With so much love and support, I am sure she will be alright.