For most parents, waking up to the sounds of your child screaming and thrashing around is an alarming and frightening experience, particularly when attempts to comfort them are met with an unresponsive expression. This is a sign of night terrors.
While night terrors are typically not life-threatening, they may be a sign of an underlying medical condition or an issue revolving around your child’s life. Knowing about their symptoms and causes can help you better understand these night terror episodes and how to deal with them.
Night terrors or sleep terrors are a type of parasomnia or disruptive sleep-related disorders that affects a sleep cycle. Night terrors typically occur during non-REM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, in the first 3 to 4 hours of the night.
Although night terrors can happen to anyone, they are most common among children aged 3 to 6 and can continue up to 12 years old.
Night terrors differ from nightmares in which a person who has a night terror episode remains asleep and usually does not remember anything, whereas those who has nightmare will wake up from the dream and may remember some details.
During a night terror episode, your child might:
Night terrors occur due to over-arousal of the central nervous system during the transition from the deepest stage of non-REM sleep to lighter REM sleep.
Some of the common causes and triggers of night terrors include:
Night terrors are generally not harmful, and occasional night terrors are usually not a major cause for concern. However, night terrors may indicate a more severe underlying medical condition which could lead to further complications if not treated properly.
Additionally, night terrors may require medical attention if they:
A night terror diagnosis may include:
Night terrors typically do not require any treatment as they usually go away on their own as your child becomes older. However, in some cases, treatment options may involve addressing the underlying medical conditions that may be causing the night terror episodes.
Some of the common treatment options include:
Furthermore, most treatment options are actually preventive measures that reduce the likelihood of an episode trigger.
Here are some tips to help your child deal with night terrors:
Witnessing a night terror episode may be a terrifying experience, especially if it’s your child’s first one. However, understanding how and why it happens, as well as knowing how to deal with them properly can reduce any further complications.
Dr. Petrina Wong is an experienced paediatrician who specialises in childhood sleep conditions. Consult Dr. Wong to discuss your child’s sleep issues today.
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