All of us have bad dreams from time-to-time, but when your child begins exhibiting frightened behavior while asleep, it can make you feel helpless when calming efforts aren’t working. Your child may be experiencing sleep terrors as opposed to the typical nightmare, which is quite common in young children.
What are Sleep Terrors?
Sleep terrors, or night terrors, are a common sleep disturbance in children. They are usually brief, with the average episode lasting no more than a few minutes, but some episodes may go on longer. Unlike nightmares, sleep terrors normally occur in the deepest stage of non-REM sleep, so there is not much actual dreaming occurring. Children generally have no memory of the episode, because there are no mental images to recall.
Symptoms of Sleep Terrors
Sleep terrors can be terrifying for both child and parent. Common elements of sleep terrors include:
- Kicking and thrashing
- Rapid breathing or racing pulse
- Sitting upright in bed
- Appearing inconsolably frightened
- Being difficult to awaken
- Confusion or disorientation when awakened
Despite being frightening, occasional sleep terrors aren’t generally a cause for concern. You can let your pediatrician know about infrequent episodes at a regular well-child visit. However, you should check with your doctor if your child’s sleep terrors become more frequent, cause your child to be overly sleepy during the day, or seem to be following a pattern. Of course, you should seek medical help if you think your child is endangering themselves.
Causes of Sleep Terrors
Sleep terrors may be associated with medical conditions, such as:
- Restless leg syndrome
- Sleep apnea or another breathing issue
- Anxiety disorders
- Reactions to some medications
Some of these issues can be difficult to identify in young children, so it’s important to let your pediatrician know if you suspect a problem, or notice the episodes to be recurring.
Night terrors are also more common when children are overtired, under stress, or sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings.
Prevention of Sleep Terrors
You can help prevent episodes by:
- Keeping your child on a regular sleep schedule to ensure they get adequate rest
- Creating a bedtime routine that is relaxing and soothing
- Reducing your child’s stress as much as possible
- Treating any underlying medical conditions with the pediatrician’s assistance
Thankfully, most children who experience sleep terrors grow out of them as they reach their teenage years. If you’re concerned about your child’s sleep habits or you have questions about how to help them, don’t hesitate to contact us today.