There are 3 stages of sleep; light sleep, deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is when dreams occur. Night terrors or sleep terrors often occur when your toddler partially wakes during the deep, non-REM sleep phase, these night terrors usually happen during the earlier part of the night and can last several minutes, but are unlikely to last longer than 15 minutes. Night terrors are common, affecting up to 6% of children and are equally prevalent in both boys and girls.
The signs of a Night Terror:
When your toddler is having a night terror, you will probably see one of more of the following signs:
- they seem to be scared and panicky, or confused and disoriented
- scream, shout or cry
- babble or talk nonsence
- hit or throw things
- wet the bed if out of nappies
- get up and move around
- not recognise you when you try and comfort them
- not remember having a night terror the next day.
While night terrors, are distressing for a parent to hear and witness, they don’t harm your toddler, they may seem awake but actually they are still half asleep.
Night terrors are different from nightmares, in that nightmares usually occur during the REM phase of sleep, and happen in the early hours or in the few hours before your toddler is due to wake up.
There is no guaranteed way of preventing night terrors but there are a few things you can do when a night terror strikes:
- make sure your toddler is safe and cannot hurt themselves, especially if they get up and walk around, if your toddler does this I would advise going into their room and shutting the door behind you so they cannot go wandering the house.
- stay near by until the night terror ends
- try not to wake you toddler during a night terror. Due to them not fully waking up during an episode, waking them may make them more agitated and scared purely because of the shock of being woken up abruptly.
- Once your toddler is calm, gently settle them back into bed, this is when you can wake them slightly with a nappy change or offering them a sip of water. Its a good idea to wake them once the night terror has ended, because if they go back into a deep sleep immediately, the likelihood is they will have another night terror.
My son experienced night terrors two-three times per week, and although most sleep experts say that night terrors occur in children aged between 3-12 years, they can occur earlier and continue into adolescence. My son has these night terrors from around three months old and would semi-wake up abruptly and scream, it was a piercing scream and often made my other half and I jump out of our skin. During a night terror he would and still does speak but we cannot make out what he is saying. We simply wait for him to calm down, put him back into bed and give him a quick drink, he goes back down well and will most of the time then sleep though the night without any more night terrors.
I found that a relaxing baby massage with some lavender scented baby lotion at bedtime helped in reducing the frequency of night terrors, he is now 16 months old and only has on average 1 night terror per weeks, and we think it is most likely due to him missing his nap in the day.
My sister who is now 19 also suffered from these night terrors right from a baby until she was about 13 or 14. I 6 years older than she is and I always remember he waking up with that same piercing scream that son displays during a night terror, my sister would also talk gibberish! I have not lived at home for many years now but I think she has finally grown out of them, so they do not last forever.
Remember to always seek advice from your GP if you have any concerns about night terrors and the possible sleep disruption that they can cause over time.
Do you have a little one experiencing night terrors? It would be great if you could share your experiences, and if there is anything you have tired to reduce their frequency. Comment below or drop me an email and I can share your experiences in post.