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As parents, we all expect that we’ll need to comfort our little angels after an upsetting nightmare from time to time.
But if you’ve ever witnessed your little one experiencing a night terror, you’ll know how heart-wrenching it can be! We take a look at the causes of night terrors and what you can do about them.
To understand the difference requires a basic understanding of the different phases of sleep:
The American Academy of Pediatrics (2013) provides a detailed explanation of baby sleep phases here .
Children typically experience nightmares during the last third of the night in the REM phase.
This lighter stage of ‘dream sleep’ is why older children can often remember their nightmare and become quite upset about it upon waking.
Night terrors take place earlier in the night, during deeper non-REM sleep.
Therefore children often have no recollection of them the following morning. Jodi A. Mindell, author of Sleeping Through the Night, explains that this is why night terrors are generally more distressing to the parent than child!
Although your child won’t remember doing these things, here are some of the signs to watch out for:
Babysleepsite.com explains how night terrors occur as a ‘glitch’ as babies transition between the various stages of sleep.
One part of the brain is trying to keep them asleep and the other is trying to wake them up! Your baby may appear to be ‘fighting’ between waking and sleeping: wriggling, moaning and thrashing about. O
ther possible factors which may make night terrors more likely include:
The British National Health Service also states that night terrors may be more common if there is a family history of sleepwalking.
Always contact your doctor if you have any concerns over the health of your baby.
Night terrors in babies and toddlers are relatively short episodes, thankfully!
They will typically last only between 1 and 5 minutes. Even in older children, they are unlikely to last more than 10-15 minutes.
Also, do not be surprised if your child experiences more than one night terror in the same night.
Night terrors are incredibly common and are more likely between the ages of 3 -18 years.
However, they can start from as early as around 18 months of age. A study found that 40% of almost 2000 children experienced night terrors between the ages of 2.5 and 6 years old.
By the age of 12, they had tended to grow out of this phase.
Night terrors are completely normal, although that doesn’t make them any easier to witness as a parent.
They do not cause any long-term psychological harm to the children that experience them- phew! Just read on to make sure your child is safe if they do experience one.
First of all, try not to panic!
You can also take precautions before bed just like you would for a sleepwalker.
After the fright has passed, you may choose to comfort your child or to leave them tucked up and undisturbed.
Don’t forget; most likely they won’t remember it the next day, so you are not being mean by leaving them to snooze afterwards!
However, if you notice a pattern of repeated terrors in one night, it may be worth waking your child once the first has passed. Try chatting to them whilst changing their diaper to rouse them.
This may prevent them going straight back in to deep sleep and the night terror repeating itself.
Sadly, there are no guaranteed ways to prevent them, but here are a few things you might try!
It won’t be pleasant watching your baby experience these nighttime disturbances, but try to remember- it is a phase! And just like so many baby phases, it will pass!
Until then, try to take comfort in the fact that your little bundle of joy will wake up smiling and gurgling as usual the next morning!
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