A night terror has a dramatic effect: In the middle of the night, your child screams or cries in the nursery. It sounds terrible and you rush to help.
What is going on – nightmares? When you enter the room, your child seems wide awake, but he looks right through you. Only rarely does the night terror affect a baby, mostly the children are of preschool age. But they are still developing, which is why they have problems with the change between individual sleep phases. This is nothing pathological, but quite normal. It usually does not need any help from a doctor. You yourself can support your child if it is affected.
Learn more about the difference between night terrors and nightmares and what you can do to help your child.
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Night Terrors: What Is It?
Night terrors are a phenomenon related to parasomnia. Like nightmares, it is a behavioral disturbance of sleep. The accompanying characteristics are always the same: the child is unresponsive. Rather, it lashes out wildly, which is why any attempt at physical closeness fails. A night terror generally occurs before midnight.
From Screaming To Sleepwalking: This Is How Night Terrors Manifest Themselves
- Child sitting in bed, eyes open.
- Crying, screaming, gasping, whimpering.
- Often also sleepwalking.
- Flailing around when touched.
It’s scary, for sure. Nevertheless, simply the night fright was with you at home, also called night fear, lat. pavor nocturnus. Its normal course is really harmless and above all without consequences. Important to know: It is also not a psychological disorder! Affected are especially smaller children between two and six years. Boys encounter night terrors more often than girls, although overall only 3 to 6% of all children experience such an episode. It is typical that your child seems awake. He or she does not have to sleepwalk to do this – open eyes also indicate this. This is because he is in a delicate transition phase between dreaming and being awake.
The REM phase has not yet occurred, the child is in the deep sleep phase. It wants to leave this phase, but it can neither wake up properly nor switch to another sleep phase. The child is now simply disoriented. Neither awake nor asleep, it recognizes neither you nor its siblings. In addition, waking up in this phase is difficult. This is because the following happens in your child’s body: the pulse accelerates, he breathes very fast and cold sweat breaks out.
Physical Symptoms Of Night Terrors
- Racing pulse – Tachycardia.
- Heavy breathing – Tachypnea.
- Cold sweat.
However, once it is over, your child simply continues to sleep. The next morning, he or she will not remember anything about the night. This is not a maldevelopment, so you do not have to worry even with sleepwalking: The phenomenon is part of normal sleep behavior at this age!
When Does Night Terrors Occur And How Long Does It Last?
The time window is large: night terrors occur between 15 minutes and several hours after your child falls asleep. Individually, it depends on when your child enters the REM phase. On the whole, such an episode does not last long: normal is between 5 and 15 minutes. Usually it is over after a short time, but in some cases it can last up to 30 minutes.
Night Terrors: At What Age Do They Occur?
Night terrors occur frequently in preschool age, also with sleepwalking. Such episodes are normal until early elementary school age. Later, such an episode is rather rare. Night terrors also hardly affect babies, but it can happen.
Night Terrors Baby: That Is Why It Is So Rare
In babies, the brain is not yet developed enough to cause night terrors. That’s why night terrors usually don’t occur until babies are nine months old. Of course, the accompanying symptom of sleepwalking also needs a certain age.
Night Terrors Scientifically Explained
At this age, the nervous system of children is not yet developed. That’s why problems occur when your child wants to switch from one sleep phase to another. This concerns the transition from deep sleep to the dream phase. Then there is a discrepancy between body and mind: While the body is already awake, the consciousness remains trapped in sleep. That is why a child can have its eyes open or even sleepwalk during a night terror, but does not see or recognize you. This is not the case with nightmares!
Is It A Sleep Disorder?
Often it is called so, but actually it is not true. Because this development is not pathological, but part of the development of your child. Thus, every child carries the predisposition to it in itself. It only becomes a sleep disorder when it accumulates excessively or prevents your child from sleeping healthily. The difference between nightmares and night terrors.
- Child can remember nightmares after waking up.
- Child is anxious after nightmare.
- Nightmare occurs frequently from the age of two.
- Child does not wake up or is difficult to wake up.
- Night terrors usually occur before midnight.
- Child cannot remember the night terror.
- After the night terror, the child is not anxious.
- Often occurs from the age of 3.
What Are The Causes Of Night Terrors?
Night terrors have both internal and external causes. The internal causes include the child’s physical development as well as predisposition. Perhaps you know night terrors from stories told by your parents? If there have already been cases in the family, you can assume heredity. In addition, there are external factors that can promote night terrors. Tired or sick children are particularly susceptible to it. Stress plays a big role here. Sensitive children are also particularly prone to it.
In addition, nutrition plays a role: For example, a young mother reported that her daughter tended to have night terrors after being given fennel tea every day. This suggests that nutritional reasons play a greater role in night terrors than previously known. The reason may also be that young children are more sensitive to strong aromatic odors as well as essential oils.
These Triggers Can Promote Night Terrors
If stress is one of the preconditions for night terrors, any disruption of routines can lead to it. This concerns new caregivers or a new environment, such as on vacation. But fatigue that has not been compensated for during the day also promotes night terrors. Missing a nap or going to bed too late – all that can be enough. So it is not so much fear, as in the case of nightmares, which causes night terrors.
The Most Common Triggers Of The Night Terror
- Stress and excitement.
- Entry into kindergarten or preschool.
- Pressure to perform.
- Fear of loss, such as when parents are having marital problems.
Night Terrors: What To Do?
First of all, there is no medication for night terrors. Nor is it necessary, because it is a normal development. Nevertheless, there are many things you can do to support your child. Differentiate here between acute assistance and preventive support.
Take Preventive Action: Calm Down And Ensure A Good Night’s Sleep
Ensure good sleeping conditions, this refers to the environment and the room temperature. It should not be too high so that your child sleeps well: about 18 degrees is just right. This also reduces the likelihood of having a nightmare. Also, always put your child to bed at the same time. In addition, provide rituals at bedtime. This can be a bedtime story as well as a self-invented spell against the monsters of the night. Make children sleep better with a night light.
TV and digital media should be taboo right before sleep: they stimulate the child instead of calming it down.
Night Terrors: What Helps Acutely?
Once the night terror has set in, there are certain rules of behavior. It may be difficult for you, but they all make sense and have been tried and tested by generations of parents.
It does neither you nor your child any good to panic. Keep telling yourself that this is normal and will pass in a moment.
Do Not Intervene
Do not hold your child, even when he or she is sleepwalking: He will only push you away! If you do manage to wake your child up, he or she will be even more confused and it will be even harder for them to fall asleep again.
Exclude the risk of injury. Stand ready to protect your child from hitting his or her head or body on edges. Also, gently guide him or her toward the bed while sleepwalking. Then stay by the bed until it’s all over.
Talking Softly Helps
Talking softly and soothingly to your child can help shorten the night terrors in some cases. In any case, it does no harm. It can also calm siblings if the situation overwhelms them.
How To Recognize That The Night Terror Is Over
Your child will usually go right back to sleep after the night terrors. Only gently guide it back to bed after the sleepwalking! A possible awakening is usually so short that it is not noticed by parents. So you notice the end only by the fact that the child calms down all at once. He feels very tired after the episode and automatically does what is good for him: sleep!
This Is How Often Night Terrors Occur In Total
The number of episodes can vary greatly: anything from a single time to once a week is possible. Likewise, there can be several months, even years, between episodes. However, if it occurs every night, a trip to the doctor is in order, because this is no longer normal.
Do Globules Help Against Night Terrors?
If you prefer homeopathy, you can certainly do something good for your child. With night terrors, the main thing is to calm them down. Proven remedies are for example STRAMONIUM D12 or ARSENICUM ALBUM D12, which fight fear and anxiety.
BELLADONNA D12 helps against fever. Other night terrors globules are possible – more details will be explained to you by an alternative practitioner or the staff in a pharmacy. The remedies are available without prescription.
Night Terrors: When To See A Doctor?
- When episodes occur more frequently than once a week.
- When there is a risk of injury.
- If children of pre-puberty age still suffer from them.
- When seizures occur – to distinguish them from epilepsy.
The pediatrician is the right address, because he knows your child exactly. For older children, a specialized child psychotherapist can also help.