If you’ve ever tried to console a child having a night terror, you know that it is no laughing matter.
Though they can seem like very traumatic experiences for the child and can be a big source of concern for parents, understanding what night terrors are (and aren’t) will help the whole family cope with this common condition.
Night terrors usually last from 5 to 20 minutes, and the child may sit up in bed, shout, scream, sweat and thrash as if out of fear. Her heartbeat may race and breathing might be faster.
After a while, she usually calms down and goes back to sleep. If a child does wake after or during a night terror, she may seem inconsolable. Since night terrors don’t involve dreams, the child won’t usually remember any scary images or understand what’s frightening or upsetting them.
Although night terrors can be terrifying and confusing for parents, they’re usually nothing major to worry about; Night terrors are typically non-pathological occurrences for children. They don’t usually indicate an underlying medical condition or mental disorder, and they’re typically nothing more than a disturbance in the sleep cycle.
Parents may mistake night terrors for a bad nightmare experience, but they are actually two different things. Nightmares occur during the specific stage of sleep known as REM, the part of the sleep cycle where dreams occur. Night terrors occur during the very deep, non-REM sleep stage.
There’s typically no dream at all involved in night terrors. Sleep experts believe night terrors are actually a fear reaction that happens as children move from one sleep phase into another.
Some children sleep through night terrors without waking at all, even if their eyes are open! Unless they’re made aware of it, many children never know they’re experiencing night terrors.
There isn’t a lot parents can do during a night terror episode. Speaking calmly to your child from a slight distance may help. If you try to comfort a child experiencing a night terror physically, you could make the situation worse by suddenly awakening and frightening her.
Although there’s no underlying disease associated with night terrors, medications, stress, fatigue, and even teething are triggers parents may be able to identify.
Keeping your child on a regular sleep schedule may help reduce the occurrence of night terrors. Chinese medicine can help distinguish any subtle underlying imbalances that may be contributing to the episodes.
Your practitioner may be able to offer some solutions for soothing your child with at home treatment such as gentle acupressure or herbal remedies return peaceful nights to you and your child.
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