Healthy Kids    

Here's what you need to know about night terrors

4 coping strategies for dealing with scared children at night

how to cope with night terrors

Night terrors are defined as an over-arousal of the central nervous system during sleep and are relatively uncommon. Most often, night terrors happen two to three hours after a child has gone to bed as their sleep moves from the deepest stage of non-REM sleep to lighter REM sleep. During this transition a child could become upset or frightened which triggers a fear reaction.

More about night terrors and to know whether or not your child is having them, click here.

I have a child who has had chronic night terrors for the last four years. I used to think he was suffering when he would shriek and violently shake but in the morning he doesn't even remember it happening. I was the only one who remembered the horrors of the night before. I'll never forget the terror ripping through my own body and mind as I sat with my child through what felt like a scene from The Exorcist.

How do you cope? Here are 4 coping strategies for surviving night terrors.

1. Create a healthy sleep environment
Before you go to sleep make sure your bedroom is calm and your space is safe. My child has gotten out of bed before and once he bolted straight to the front door. Make sure windows and doors are locked and secure. If your child thrashes around, make sure there is nothing near the bed or on the floor that could hurt them if they get up or fell. Once my son went absolutely crazy trying to get out of his pajamas during one of these episodes. Now I make sure he is in loose-fitting, comfortable clothes and his bedroom is cool.

2. Have a strict bedtime routine
From the day our babies are born we are told routines, routines, routines are the key to a calm and happy baby. While that might not always hold true, a good bedtime routine does hold a lot of weight in a better night's sleep. It is extremely important to disconnect from all electronics at least an hour before bedtime. Do something relaxing such as a warm lavender bath, stories or songs before bed. There are some easy to follow bedtime routine ideas, here.

3. Get enough sleep
Enough rest wasn't always the trigger for my son's terrors, but I knew if he was going to bed overtired that we'd be up with a night terror shortly after he fell asleep. Earlier bed times or napping if there was a lot of stimulation throughout the day are good ways to get enough sleep.

4. Figure out the triggers
It took 4 years and a lot of research, doctor appointments, journalism and trial and error to figure out that my son's night terrors were triggered by food sensitivities. Most children who are going through some kind of change are also more susceptible to having terrors. There are lots of stressors: not getting enough sleep, over stimulation, anxieties, movies, games, even chatter on the bus that could be causing them. Once you can get down to the route of the issue it's easier to make the necessary steps to reduce the triggers and hopefully the terrors too.

3 Tips for Reducing Your Child's Stress

As a parent, it is really tough to watch your child go through something that feels and looks so traumatic. Stay strong! Don't be afraid to ask your doctor for advice or reach out to other mommies who have gone through it for support. It is exhausting and scary to go through this alone. The best things you can do during a night terror for your child is to:
  • Remain calm. Do not try and touch or wake your child. Stay near them until it passes making sure they aren't in any danger. You should only intervene if your child is going to get hurt. Like I said above, my child had to be woken up when he was trying to get out the front door. Another time he was flailing his body against the bathtub and I woke him then too.
  • Try to jot down time of the terror or anything that might have triggered it and keep a journal. You might start seeing a pattern which you could break by gently waking your child 15 minutes before.
  • After it passes, I always gently wake him and encourage him to use the bathroom before going back to sleep.
  • Talk to your child while they are awake about things that may be stressing them. If you need to, bring your child to a professional for advice.
night terror vs nightmare