Updated: Nov 26
Some parents will have comforted their child after a nightmare, but if your child ever has a night terror, they will be inconsolable, no matter what you try.
What is a night terror?
Night terrors are a sleep disruption that are similar to a nightmare, only they are more intense and dramatic. They can be distressing to watch but they are not usually a cause for concern. They are common in children between 3 and 8 years of age and can happen where there is a family history of night terrors or sleepwalking. They usually happen in the first few hours of sleep and can be a single episode or happen regularly.
What to expect - During a night terror you child might:
suddenly sit upright in bed
shout out or scream in distress
act upset and scared
After a few minutes, or a bit longer, the child then settles back down to sleep. Unlike nightmares, children have no recollection of them as they were in a deep sleep when they happened.
What causes them? - Often night terrors happen when children are:
overtired/not getting enough sleep
stressed or anxious
are too hot
are sleeping in a different environment, away from home
What to do when your child has a night terror
It is important that you stay calm and wait for them to become calm.
Do not try to interact with them, unless they are in danger.
Do not try to wake them up - this can cause them to become more agitated and they may not recognise you.
How to help prevent them - There is no treatment for night terrors but here are a few things that can help:
Have a good, consistent bedtime routine, that is relaxing
Ensure that your child is going to bed at the right time
Make sure that your child isn't over-dressed at night
Ensure that the bedroom is not too warm
Reduce their stress/anxiety
You might find that your child has a night terror around the same time each night. Try to disrupt the sleep cycle by going in 15 minutes before and gently turning them - you don't need to wake them.
Usually children grow out of them, but talk with your GP if they occur several times a night, or most nights, despite trying the above ways of preventing them.
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