Night Terrors in Children

What Are Night Terrors?
Approximately a third of all children experience night terrors at some point in their childhood. Night terrors occur between the ages of 3 to 7 and episodes can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.

A night terror occurs when your child has a sleeping mind and an active body; children will frequently scream and fling out their limbs, but will remember nothing of the episode. The night terror is rooted in a physical reaction. It’s also important to note that your child will not be easily woken from a night terror; noises that usually cause a sleeping child to awake won’t have an effect.

Difference Between Night Terrors and Nightmares
A night terror is different from a nightmare. A nightmare is defined as having a sleeping body and active mind, as a child can recount her nightmares but is incapable of physical exertion during an episode. Nightmares usually result from a subconscious recollection of a traumatic event.

Night Terrors and Age
Because night terrors can begin in the toddler years and can last through the pre-teen years, the episodes can elicit varying reactions from parents. Night terrors in toddlers are particularly distressing to the parent, as the parent believes their toddler may not be able to communicate the agony of the night terror. Reassure yourself that night terrors in toddlers are no different from night terrors in children — your child won’t remember the episode.

What’s A Parent To Do?
Night terrors are not only terrifying for children, they’re frightening for parents, too. At what point do the night terror episodes call for medical attention? A night terror can be so startling for a parent that the first sign is usually enough to bring the child to the pediatrician.

Usually, parents are told to wait these episodes through, as they eventually subside with no apparent neurological consequences. There are cases that merit not only the attention of a pediatrician, but the aid of a sleep clinic as well. If your child has night terrors every night for approximately a month or if there are multiple night terror episodes each night, it’s time to consult a sleep specialist. Talk to your pediatrician and get a referral to a sleep clinic.

But what should a parent do for their child during one of these night terrors? It’s best to let your child keep sleeping. Waking your child could cause her an unnecessary scare. If your child should happen to wake, remember to remain calm and reassuring. If your child sees that these night terrors are a cause for serious concern, they’ll only become more frightened and the occurrence of night terrors will increase.

Decrease Stressors
Although child and parents are usually told to wait out the night terror episodes, eliminating stressors from your child’s life may help decrease the occurrence of these night terrors.