1. Coping With Night Terrors
A night terror is a relatively common occurrence that appears mostly in young children, typically between the ages of 3 to 5 years. 2 to 3% of all children will experience episodes of night terrors. By the time they reach school age, most of these children will have outgrown these generally harmless events.
2. Night Terror or Nightmare
A night terror is not the same thing as a nightmare. Nightmares occur during the dream phase of sleep known as REM sleep (this stands for Rapid Eye Movement; also known as "dreaming" sleep). The circumstances of the nightmare will frighten the child, who usually will wake up with a vivid memory of a long movie-like dream. Night terrors, on the other hand, occur during a phase of deep non-REM sleep - usually an hour or two after the child goes to bed. During a night terror, which may last anywhere from a few minutes up to an hour, the child is still asleep. Her eyes may be open, but she is not awake. When she does wake up, she'll have absolutely no recollection of the episode other than a sense of fear.
3. Why Does The Child Have Night Terrors
Several factors may contribute to night terrors. It's likely that if her parents had night terrors, the child will, too. Fatigue and psychological stress may also play roles in their occurrence. Make sure the child is getting plenty of rest. Be aware of things that may be upsetting to the child, and to the extent one is able, try to minimize the distress.
Children usually have night terrors at the same time each night, generally sometime in the first few hours after falling asleep. Doctors suggest parents wake their child about 30 minutes before the night terror usually happens. Get the child out of bed, and have her talk to you. Keep her awake for 5 minutes, and then let her go back to sleep.
Night terrors can be a frightening phenomenon of childhood but they are not dangerous. If they occur frequently or over a long period of time, however, discuss this with the doctor.
4. What Can Be Done
It's helpful to know that although these events may be disturbing, night terrors themselves are not harmful to the child. But because a child may get out of bed and run around the room, doctors do advise parents to gently restrain a child experiencing night terrors. Otherwise, let the episode run its course. Shouting and shaking the child awake will just agitate her more. Remember to warn babysitters and other family members who may be present overnight so that they will understand what is happening and won't overreact.
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