Nightmares are quite simply bad dreams that cause the feeling of fear or dread in children. However night terrors are a different phenomenon that may occur in an estimated 15% of all children.
Night terrors are most common in children and cause feelings of terror or horror in children during the first few hours of sleep. Children between the age of two and 6 are most prone to night terrors though even adolescents and adults do experience them less frequently.
Symptoms of night terror
Typically a child may sit bold upright in their bed, with the eyes wide and staring with the appearance of panic or dread. The heartbeat may be typically elevated, breathing may be faster and there may be some sweating. Some kids tend to scream as well.
A child may appear to be awake during a night terror but may still be in the grip of the episode. He or she may not seem to comprehend what is going on, or who is present around them.
They could seem incoherent and confused and it could be difficult for a parent to calm them down.
What parents can do about night terror
There is strong evidence to suggest a genetic facet to night terrors so there is a certain degree of inevitability about the condition. However parents can make sure that they do their best to reduce the factors that could contribute to night terrors.
Night terrors are most likely in children who are overtired. If they have had insufficient sleep or poor quality sleep; or if the baby has slept really late, this could be prime reasons for the child experiencing a night terror. So ensuring happy and healthy sleep patterns is most important in trying to avoid episodes.
Emotional and other upsets during the day may also incline a child to have a night terror later when sleeping. So stresses and emotional problems should be addressed and not allowed to escalate.
When a child does experience a night terror, the parent(s) should be at hand to offer plenty of comfort and reassurance.
Do night terrors need treatment?
In some cases, if the episodes are frequent and predictable, it is advised that they child should be awakened just before the episode is likely to occur. In extreme cases, psychotherapy may be indicated so physicians’ evaluation is a good idea in these cases. Medications are rarely prescribed for this problem though some medications like diazepam could help a child sleep better.