If you child suffers from night terrors it can be, well, for want of a better word, terrifying! Seeing your child sit bolt upright, screaming, thrashing around, kicking frantically, it’s a truly galling experience.
The strangest thing of all, is that it’s terrifying for you the parent, not them. They won’t remember a single thing about the experience. This is where night terrors and nightmares differ.
You see, dreams and nightmares occur during REM sleep, when the brain handily paralyses the body so we can act out the images we’re seeing in our mind’s eye. Thanks brain! Night terrors on the other hand occur during non-REM, deep wave sleep. So, while your child might have their eyes open and even be shouting legible words, they are in fact not really dreaming but in deep sleep. Freaky, right?
Fortunately, night terrors only affect around 6% of children, which is of course no solace if your son or daughter is one of that 6%. They tend to start around the age of 3, peak between 5-7 and fade completely by 12.
But enough of the background, if your kids suffer from night terrors you probably know all this guff already and simply want to know how to prevent them.
Well, let’s start by saying that there isn’t anything you can do to prevent a night terror once it’s started. If you’re present when one is occurring it can be very difficult, to just about impossible, to wake or soothe a child who is in the middle of a terror.
What you can do however is make the environment around them as risk free as possible, move anything breakable or with a sharp edge away, so that your son or daughter might grab or thrash against. Aside from that just be there for them, try not to worry yourself too much. Generally, after 10 to 20 minutes your child will settle down and naturally drift off to sleep as if nothing at all has happened.
In a very small number of cases children with night terrors may act out violently toward people in the room, if this is the case, just stay out of the way. Oh, and don’t take it personally, remember they are fast asleep after all.
Basically, speaking medical science has yet to work out why night terrors happen and as a result knowing what triggers them is also a little bit of a mystery. What researchers do know however is that night terrors seem to be more prevalent after illness and periods of stress and after anesthetic has been administered. It’s thought around 10% of children suffer night terrors in the weeks after surgery.
Getting a child into deep sleep as quickly as possible seems to be one way to reduce the risk of night terrors occurring. Achieving this requires nothing fancier than getting your child into a healthy sleep routine, sticking rigidly to bedtimes, avoiding any food item that includes caffeine. That means chocolate, soda and no coffee. These simple sleep hacks, plus many many more like them, are something the experts at The Sleep Advisor blog discuss constantly.
There seems to be only one proven method to prevent night terrors and that is to wake your child up before the thrashing around begins. You see, night terrors tend to occur at predictable and repeatable times each night. Plus, before the full terror episode explodes into action there are some give away activities, such as an increase in small random movements and sweating.
Once a parent has identified a pattern and pinpointed a time window, if they gently wake their child 15-30 minutes before the episode is likely to happen, there is evidence they can prevent the episode completely.
The fancy medical name for this technique is scheduled awakenings. The same technique seems to work also on other childhood sleeping disorders such as sleep walking.
Some manufactures have also begun to target products at parents whose children suffer from night terrors. One such product called the Lully uses a device placed under a child’s mattress to detect when a night terror is approaching and then uses vibrations to prevent it from taking place. The company who manufactures it claims an 80% success rate. But companies claim a lot of things, don’t they? Remember, do your research before you go spending any big bucks.
Well, there you have it – what night terrors are and how you can go about preventing them. Remember whilst they may look like something from The Exorcist, they are largely harmless and something the vast majority of children will grow out of relatively soon. In the meantime, good luck!
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