So you have a good goodnight session with your toddler, you read him a book, tuck him into his blanket and kiss him a goodnight and leave the room watching him deep in sleep. Two hours into his sleep, he starts screaming out of fear, shouting and yelling with his eyes closed and sometimes wide open. He starts throwing a fit, hits and kicks uncontrollably. The session goes for about 10 minutes, sometimes lasts for about 30 minutes and repeats as often as every night. Your child has no clue of this episode the next morning. As a parent, initially you get concerned, worried, try to console your child in every possible way. But when the episodes get repeated every night you tend to loose your patience and often feel annoyed. This can be a traumatic event for both children and parents. Let us understand what exactly is happening with your child and how to deal with it.
Children as young as babies are prone to getting bad dreams which can scare the hell out of them. They are neither completely awake nor entirely asleep. This is called Night Terror or Sleep Terror or Nightmare. The entire session is quite traumatic for children since they are unable to decipher their dreams and feel completely helpless hence making them aggressive. It is believed that they see shadows in their dreams and get scared.Sleep terror is quite common in children especially up to 10 years of age. The good news is they eventually outgrow this as they age. On the flip side some children also tend to become sleep walkers. Let's leave that as another topic of discussion.
There are many factors that can cause night terror in toddlers or older children.
If your child had an action packed day and was too active physically or mentally, there is a possibility that he is unable to fall asleep peacefully. This can keep him active mentally even though his body has retired. This can result in disturbing dreams and the subsequent commotion.
The other possible and most common reason in children for getting bad dreams is if they have seen something scary during the day which subconsciously has taken over their mind. The thoughts can get active when they sleep. This can result in an episode of night terror.
If the child has lost someone close to his heart like a pet or a family member, he could be in a traumatic situation. Their emotional loss can result in nightmares of loosing someone near and dear and can fairly be the reason of their prolonged nightmare disorder of sleep disorder.
In very rare cases children could have sleep apnea wherein they snore and sometimes hold their breath while sleeping. This can sometimes result in sleep deprivation or lack of sound sleep that can then become a reason when night terrors occur.
Its goog to know that when your child is experiencing a night terror he is not aware of your side of the world. He is into a world where he is feeling helpless and is looking for help. Experiencing night terrors can get very traumatic and hence it is important for parents or any family member to handle it patiently and peacefully. Children’s night terrors generally break adult’s sleep hence the feeling of frustration in adults. This is how you can handle the episode with your children:
Creating light around child can help them feel comfortable. Children often see shadows in dreams and light can reduce the appearance of shadows.
Shouting or screaming on your child can worsen the situation. It will double up his fear and he will tend to become more aggressive.
During the entire terror episode your child might look wide awake but mind it he will not be awake and you should not even try to wake him up. The key is to try to put back your child from agitated sleep to calm sleep.
Try to soothe your child by taking him close to you, if he allows or by patting him gently on his back or chest saying things like “its ok, you are fine”.
It is important to ensure that their agitation doesn’t result in getting them injured. So although they will find you as a threat, it is necessary to tackle them gently to avoid injuries.
For preschoolers, it is important that they nap for sometime in afternoon. This helps reduce their tiredness.
For slightly bigger children if the episode is repeating every night, get an estimate of about after how many hours of sleep do they get these terrors. Accordingly an hour or half before that try to wake them up to drink water or just get them out of sleep for sometime so that they can start sleeping afresh and avoid an episode. By repeating this for few days, you can get rid of these episodes completely.
Experiencing night terrors can be an inherited disorder in children. Sometimes these can get as bad as affecting their developmental milestones. Preventing night terrors is the best way to take care of these episodes since there is no cure per say.
Also read: Tips To Train Your Baby To Sleep