Is your child screaming at night while asleep and safely tucked in their bed? They could be suffering night terrors.

Night terrors are repeated episodes of extreme screaming, wailing, thrashing, or panic during sleep. They occur mainly in children aged three to 12. The good news is that night terror experiences are usually brief, and most children outgrow them by the time they reach their teens.

Why do children have night terrors?

Sleep is classified into two types: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM). Night terrors occur during non-REM sleep, typically 90 minutes after a child falls asleep.

Nightmares vs night terrors

Night terrors are distinct from regular nightmares, which occur during REM sleep. During a night terror episode, you may have difficulty waking your child. The next morning, your child is unlikely to recall the incident.

Signs and symptoms of night terrors

Children who suffer from night terrors may also suffer from:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Dilated pupils

During a night terror attack, a child may:

  • Sit up in their bed
  • Flail around
  • Scream
  • Look awake but be confused
  • Be unable to speak

When to consult a doctor

Night terrors are not dangerous, although they can cause sleep disruption in your child. Approximately half of all children have sleep disorders severe enough to necessitate medical attention.

Talking to your child’s paediatrician may help to alleviate your anxiety. Inform them if your child’s night terrors keep them awake frequently or last longer than half an hour.

Causes and triggers of night terrors

Night terrors are a trait that runs in families. Most of the time, there is no clear cause. Certain factors, however, may play a role, including:

  • A lack of sleep
  • Fever
  • Stress, depression, or worry
  • Caffeine overdose
  • Sleeping in a separate location or away from home
  • Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea
  • Syndrome of restless legs
  • Medications that have a negative impact on the central nervous system (the brain)

Diagnosis of night terrors

A doctor can usually diagnose night terrors based on your child’s medical history and a physical exam. If they suspect other health issues, they may perform the following tests:

  • An EEG, which measures brain activity, can be used to screen for seizure disorders.
  • A sleep study (polysomnography) to rule out any respiratory problems.

Treatment for night terrors

There is no cure for night terrors, but they tend to fade as a child grows older.

If the episodes are interfering with your child’s daily activities (for example, how they are doing in school or their relationships with friends and family), their doctor may prescribe medications.

Night terrors: Home remedies

  • Make your child’s room safe so that he or she is not harmed during an episode.
  • Remove anything that could disrupt their sleep, such as electronic screens or noises.
  • Reduce your child’s stress levels.
  • Make certain that your child receives enough rest. Make sure they don’t get too fatigued or stay up too late.
  • Create and keep to a calm nighttime routine.
  • Maintain a consistent wake-up time every day.
  • During an episode, do not wake your child. It can make them even more disoriented, and it may take them longer to fall asleep again. Wait it out and make sure they don’t hurt themselves during the episode.
  • Record how many minutes after bedtime the night terrors begin.
    Wake your child 15 minutes before the anticipated night terror and keep them awake and out of bed for 5 minutes.

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