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Night terrors

 
Screams during the night sent this mom on a quest for some answers.
By Sumanda Maritz

Pic: Shutterstock

Article originally in Parent24
Last night about a minute after getting into bed, Tioné started screaming.  I’ve learned not to touch her during these attacks, since it only aggravates the situation. Night terrors have started up again in our house.

It was a quick session last night, but with my middle son Tristan it used to be a marathon session of 30 minutes.

The first time it happened was with oldest brother Rivan. I felt so useless when he suddenly started screaming during the night. Comforting him didn’t help at all.  He’d just carry on screaming.  After what felt like a lifetime, but was probably only 10 minutes, he would just stop screaming and fall asleep as if nothing happened. None of them have ever shown that they remember the night terror the next morning.

After doing research it turns out that I am the reason all my kids went through a phase of night terrors.  No it’s not because I’m a terrible mother. Predisposition for Night terrors tends to run in families and have been linked to sleep walking.  

What are night terrors?

First of all, it’s not a nightmare. Dreams and nightmares take place during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep which is why REM sleep is known as dream sleep.  Night terrors take place during the 4th stage of Non REM sleep or deep sleep. 

Typically your child will do a combination of these:
•    whimper, scream or shout
•    sit up in bed
•    be unresponsive and confused
•    kick, flail and thrash
•    sweat, breath heavily, have a rapid pulse
•    although their eyes may be open, they won’t be awake and will be difficult to wake
•    get out of bed
•    stare wide-eyed

What causes it?


These factors have been shown to contribute to night terrors.
•    Overtiredness
•    Stress
•    Anxiety
•    Fever
•    Sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings

What can I do to help my child?

Night terrors are more frightening to the parents than the child. During an attack there isn’t much you can do. You can try to comfort your child, but since they are not aware of your presence, it might not make any difference. If they do get out of bed, try to keep them from hurting themselves. Don’t restrain your child as this can make things worse.

As a preventative measure you can ensure that your child gets enough sleep.  Also implement a quiet ritual before bed time, like bathing and reading a story. If your child does get out of bed, make his sleeping environment as safe as possible. Watch out for power cables on the floor that can trip them and if necessary close off part of the house so that they won’t be able to hurt themselves.

Night terrors usually occur in the early part of the night.  Should it happen frequently, you can wake your child about an hour after they have gone to sleep or about 15 minutes before the attacks usually occur. Interrupting the sleep pattern can help prevent it.  Keep him awake for 5 minutes and then let him go back to sleep.  Do this for a week.

If the night terrors are very bad, you can consult your paediatrician for medical advice.  Try to keep a sleep diary for two weeks before the doctor’s visit.  Make note of bedtime rituals, behaviour patterns like food consumption and medication taken.  Also write down all the questions you have for the doctor.

How long is this going to last?

Night terrors can start as young as 9 months and usually disappears before adolescence. Very few adults suffer from night terrors. In my experience it would happen frequently in the beginning and then have longer periods between attacks until they disappear. This usually happens over a period of a few weeks.

Remember that although it can be very upsetting, night terrors are not serious and will usually go away by themselves.

Have you or your child suffered form night terrors? What do you recommend?

Read more on: sleep  |  toddler
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