Night terrors, or sleep terrors, as they are also known, occur during the non-REM phase of sleep, usually within an hour of two of falling into slumberland.
Children who experience night terrors may seem like they’re awake because their eyes are open, but in reality they are still very much asleep. Children afflicted with night terrors may also wake up screaming, may flail about in their beds or even sleepwalk around your home.
Night terrors are most commonly experienced by children between the ages of two and five, but may occur in babies as young as six months and in children as old as twelve years.
So what can you do as a parent to cope with your child’s night terrors or possibly even prevent them from occurring?
- Set a bedtime routine. Make sure you put your child to bed at the same time every night. If your child is young enough for naps, make sure the naps are also at the same time every day.
- Integrate calming activities into your routine. Try giving your child a lavender-scented bubble bath before bed, or read them a story or two.
- If you do wake up and find your child experiencing a night terror episode, turn on the lights and try talking to them in calm, soothing tone. Under no circumstances, though, should you try and wake your child. Doing so can actually make the terror worse and increase its duration.
- If your child has a habit of sleepwalking during an episode, make sure that all windows and doors leading outside are securely latched so they don’t inadvertently open them while asleep. You may even want to consider installing baby gates at the top of stairs so your child doesn’t fall down them.
- Try to stop night terror episodes by waking your child fifteen minutes before an expected episode. To find out when an episode is expected, keep track of your child’s night terrors in a journal. A pattern will emerge that will allow you to determine what time to wake your child. Once awake, make sure he stays that way for at least five minutes before allowing him to fall back asleep.
As a mom of a child who experiences night terrors, I can tell you that the slightest deviation from my son’s normal daily routine can cause him to have an episode that night, so make sure you adhere to your child’s routine.
If you have any night terror recommendations, please feel free to share them with us.