Night Terror – Definition, Symptoms and Helpful Tips

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While he slept relatively well until now, your child now wakes up frequently during the night. He seems restless and may even be sweaty. If so, it looks like he is suffering from night terrors. Very common, this sleep disorder mostly affects young children up to 6 years old. At this point, their brain is still learning to manage the different phases of falling asleep and that’s when the night terror kicks in. Although this may seem impressive or even worrying, it is actually a normal stage of child development. To better understand what he goes through, discover in this article what a night terror is, how to recognize it and how to react.

Night Terror – Definition, Symptoms and Helpful Tips

What is a night terror and why does it affect children?

As indicated in the introduction, night terror is a sleep disorder usually associated with early childhood. The child usually wakes up within 2 hours of going to bed or in the middle of the night.

Recognize a night terror

For recognize a night terror, first observe your child’s behavior during his “crises”. For example, you can find him sitting up in bed with his eyes wide open. He does not seem really awake and may seem lost, even incoherent or sometimes even aggressive. This is explained because he is actually in a form of semi-lucidity. He may seem terrified, but not aware of what is happening, then he goes back to sleep on his own. If in addition he has no memory of the event the next morning, it does look like a night terror.

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The age at which night terrors occur

Night terrors affect some adults (less than 2% nevertheless), but children aged 1.5 to 4 years are the most affected. After 5 years, this disorder becomes rare and sometimes it lasts up to 6 years. There is nothing to worry about that since about 40% of children will have had this problem before the age of 6.

Cause and frequency of night terrors

Between 18 months and up to 6 years, the child’s brain is in full development. The management of the different phases of sleep is not yet acquired and it is therefore the immaturity of the brain which causes parasomnias. These are unusual disorders and behaviors that appear during sleep. Night terror is one such disorder.

It occurs specifically during the slow deep sleep phase, which occurs in cycles, within 2 hours of falling asleep and again in the middle of the night.

What is the difference between night terror and nightmare?

The major difference between a night terror and a nightmare is that the affected person usually does not remember the “attack” once it has passed. Upon awakening, the child may behave quite normally and not seem affected by his nocturnal awakening. We can say that a night terror leaves as it came, without leaving a trace or a memory !

Conversely, when we have a nightmare, even if we cannot always tell it in detail, we still have a vague image of it and we know that we have had one. We are aware of it. With the night terror, this is not the case.

The other point allowing to differentiate nightmare and nocturnal terror, it is the presence of unusual behaviors associates. Night terror can cause a form of irritability, even transient aggressiveness when it occurs. Unlike the nightmare, it can also be accompanied by sleepwalking attacks and sleep talking: talking in sleep.

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What are the aggravating factors that can cause night terrors?

If night terrors are a completely normal phenomenon linked to the maturation of the child’s brain, some factors can nevertheless aggravate attacks or make them more frequent.

Change in sleeping or napping habits

Night terrors can increase at any time when the child’s sleep is shifted or disturbed. Unusual noise, a change of time or sudden rhythm can accentuate the phenomenon.

This is particularly noticeable for some children entering school or changing grades. If they haven’t been prepared for it, not being able to take a nap anymore or not being able to do them at the same pace as usual can disrupt their quality of sleep at night.

To compensate for these sudden changes, be sure to establish a routine before bed with rituals and regular evening schedules.

On weekends or on vacation, the ideal is not to shift the time of going to bed and getting up by more than 2 hours compared to the usual rhythm.

Disease and genetic predisposition to night terrors

Unfortunately, some children naturally have a genetic predisposition or a disease subjecting them to a treatment that causes sleep disturbances. Night terrors can then be caused by drugs that affect the central nervous system. In this case, it will be necessary to be patient and bring as much regularity as possible to your child’s sleeping and bedding routine.

Child’s anxiety, stress or discomfort

A move, a sudden change or bereavement can cause this sleep disorder. In this case, it is appropriate to treat the cause of the anxiety firststress or discomfort of the child.

Listen to your child and do not hesitate to consult your pediatrician if necessary.

Lack of sleep, prolonged fatigue, or overactivity can make night terrors worse

Contrary to a still too widespread idea, a very tired child will not necessarily have a heavy sleep afterwards. It can even be quite the opposite. Depriving a child of sleep or naps during the day hoping that he sleeps better at night is therefore a false good idea.. The same goes for excessive physical and sporting activity or which occurs too late in the day.

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It is thought to tire your child so that he sleeps better, whereas this can generate excitement and disturb the night to come. A toddler who, on the contrary, takes regular and sufficient naps will generally have a continuous and peaceful night’s sleep.

What to do in case of night terror?

Even if your child fidgets, talks or moves during the night, don’t wake him and don’t touch him, even to rock him. The best is to do not intervene. If he wakes up for good, seeing you by his side can frighten him and make him feel like something wrong or worrying has happened.

If you are present during a phase of semi-awakening, you will surely notice that his attitude is unusual, even strange. He may look dazed and lost. If you also talk to him at this time, it can make the crisis last instead of shortening it. Let him fall back to sleep alone. He usually doesn’t realize what’s happening and naturally falls back into morphee’s arms unaided.

The next day, it’s useless to tell him about his crisis in detail if he doesn’t tell you about it himself and doesn’t seem worried. On the other hand, be present if your child cries and calls you at night while being lucid. In this case, it is likely to be a nightmare and not a night terror. This is all the more true if he is able to tell you about his bad dream.

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