Lets Start with the Stages of sleep
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 in Toddlers:
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.
How to deal with a Night terror
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.
Our Night Terror Story
My son experienced night terrors two-three times per week. 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 had 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 almost 2 and only has on average 1 night terror per week. We haven’t really changed anything to reduce the frequency of his night terrors. The doctors think that he is most likely feeling more secure in his bedroom and growing out of them.
My daughter has recently turned 1 and she too has started experiencing night terrors. Her’s seems to be triggered by loud, sudden noises in the night. More recently due to disrupted sleep because of the heat wave we have been experiencing here in the UK. It is the same piercing cry that makes my other half and I jump! She is having night terrors almost every night, but she is quick to settle when we go in and reassure her. I think it helps that she now shares a room with her brother.
How do we deal with the Night Terrors?
We have a good bedtime routine which both of my children love, this really helps settle them before bed. When they do wake with a night terror in the night, we go in give them a drink of water, cuddle them, show them where their teddies are and let them know that we are not far away. We spend about 5- 10 minutes calming and reassuring them, tuck them back in and they do usually go straight back to sleep. There has been the odd occasion when they won’t go back to sleep. When this happens we spend longer settling them, and my son has been known recently to get into bed with me and his dad for an hour until he is ready to go back to his own room. It is tiring, especially when all we want to do is go to sleep ourselves, but night terrors do go away on their own.
My sister who is now 19 also suffered from these night terrors right from a baby until she was about 13 or 14. I am 6 years older than she is and I always remember her 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. 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. Is there anything you have tired to reduce their frequency? Comment below or drop me an email and I can share your experiences in post.
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