Awake but not awake, staring blankly, so much more than a bad dream. You will benefit from knowing some practical ways to help a child with night terrors.
Night terrors is a term used to describe the panic when your child wakens in an ‘over the top way’ in the first few hours of sleep. It’s very upsetting to watch because your child looks terrified and you can’t console them. You are not alone, statistics show that five out of a hundred children will at some stage have night terrors. Most often they happen in pre-school and primary school aged children. A child who is having a night terror is stuck halfway between being asleep and awake. They are awake enough to get out of bed, talk/scream and have their eyes open, but they do not respond to a parent trying to console them. They usually do not remember the episode in the morning.
What does a night terror look like?
- Starts with screaming and your child looks terrified
- Thrashing their arms and legs wildly in bed, or start running around the house as if they are being chased by something
- Fast breathing and fast heart beat
- Eyes open but seems to stare right through you
- Can’t recognize anyone
- Can’t be consoled
- Lasts between about five to fifteen minutes, and may be more than once in the same night
What causes a night terror?
- Sometimes there is a family history of night terrors or sleep walking
- Generally night terrors happen in the first half of the night when the child is having most of their deep sleep
- Night terrors may become worse with illness, asthma, fevers, being overtired, or if your child becomes very worried about something
- More common in boys
- Peak onset is three and half years old
- Night terrors have been known since ancient times
How are night terrors different to nightmares?
Nightmares are scary dreams that usually happen in the second half of the night because that is when a child has most of their dream sleep. During a nightmare a child wakes up fully and can remember the frightening dream. Children can be settled by a parent and remember the waking in the morning.
Practical ways to help a child with night terrors
- Stay calm and don’t touch your child unless they are going to hurt themselves. Efforts to rock, cuddle, settle or help your child often make the episode worse
- Don’t wake your child in the middle of it
- Talk in a quiet voice, “you are okay, you are at home, you are in your own bed, it’s OK to go back to sleep”
- Keep your house safe – lock windows and doors!
- Clear the bedroom of objects that you could both step on or trip over
- Have a regular sleep time with a good bedtime routine. Overtiredness and not enough sleep can make night terrors more frequent
- Some parents say if their child misses a nap or stays up late they are more likely to have one
- Don’t make a big fuss about night terrors the next day unless your child asks. Children, and their brothers or sisters, often become upset by your reaction and may become anxious about going to bed
- Night terrors do not have any bad effects on your child in the future and usually your child will outgrow them
- Make sure to warn baby-sitters and other parents when your child goes away overnight, on camp or to a friends place. This will help them to be prepared
- Medications rarely are indicated for sleep terrors and usually provide no long-term help
Can night terrors be prevented?
- Make sure that your child has a good sleep routine and doesn’t miss naps
- Avoid TV and screen time before bed
- Some parents report that night terrors are worse on a night that their child had an evening meal containing gluten/pasta/ or pizza
- Some parents report that these terrors are worse on a night that their child had an evening meal with little protein, suggesting blood sugar problems
When do you need to see a doctor for night terrors?
- You would like the doctor to check there is no underlying medical problem
- The night terrors are very violent and there is a risk of injury to your child or yourself
When do you need to see a homeopath for night terrors?
- Your doctor has ruled out an underlying medical problem
- The night terrors happen a lot and are interfering with the whole family
- Your child is overly sleepy during the day
- If your child does not seem to be ‘outgrowing’ them
There are several homeopathic remedies for night terrors available which need to be differentiated in an individual way.
When do you need to see a chiropractor for night terrors?
We advise that every child should be checked by a chiropractor at least once.