- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
The Truth About Night Terrors and Children
Signs of Night Terrors
- Child appears awake but is deep sleep
- Overwhelming fear or terror
- Strange behavior occurring at night
- Rapid heart beat
- Screaming or crying
- No memory of the event
- Inability to fully awaken
- Irritable and difficult to sooth back to sleep
You may have a childhood nightmare that you still remember, but chances are it was not a true night terror. Night terrors are not nightmares, but more terrifying episodes that occur in later stages of the sleep cycle. This article gives some basic information to help you identify this disturbing sleep disorder.
How is a Night Terror Different Than a Nightmare?
Night terrors can cause children to exhibit strange behavior and extreme fear. Children will appear awake when they are really still sleeping. Kids may be terrified of some unseen stimuli or have a look of sheer terror. Other times they are unresponsive and out of it. They may get up, walk around, eat, play with toys, interact, but they are sill asleep and it can be extremely difficult to wake them and also for them to calm down after having a night terror. If this happens more than a few times, parents should talk to their child's doctor.
The big difference is that nightmares occur in the early stages of sleep and the person appears to be asleep. Night terrors happen in deeper stages of sleep. It seems counter-intuitive, but in this deeper sleep stage, the person can actually appear to be awake, but still be asleep, suffering a night terror.
What Causes Night Terrors?
Some studies have shown that night terrors, like other sleep disorders, are hereditary. If there is a family history of sleep disorders, notify your child's pediatrician. Studies have shown a link between night terrors and stressful situations or lack of sleep. Problems at home or school can bring on the interruption in the normal sleep cycle that causes night terrors. Most night terrors occur after a particularly stressful event or a lack of sleep.
How Can I Prevent Night Terrors in My Child
Developing a nightly bedtime ritual is also one of the most effective treatments for night terrors. Medication is not necessary for the majority of children. Address school or home issues before they become stressful problems and make a consistent sleep schedule a priority. Some people have had luck with the recommended dosage of Benadryl (diphenhydramine) before bedtime. Anything that makes the child feel secure and relaxed with decrease the likelihood of nigh terrors.
While very frightening, most children outgrow night terrors.