Blood-curdling screams, hysterical crying that lasts for up to an hour or more with terror written all over your child’s face is probably an indication that they are experiencing night terrors, and you are in the thick of it with them.
Night terrors are not nightmares. Nightmares usually end up with waking up, and they tend to end fairly quickly. Night terrors are when your child is in a deep sleep, eyes wide open, screaming or crying inconsolably for quite some time. They do not wake up no matter what you do. They are in a cycle of terror that you can only watch and pray will end soon.
If you can’t wake your child or console them, what do you do? It is not a simple answer, but there are some things you can try to help your child get through their night terrors.
Know the signs
Night terrors often occur in young children but can happen up to the age of 12. They usually happen an hour or two after they fall asleep, during non-REM sleep. They cry or scream with their eyes open. However, they are not awake. Some will stay in bed and some get out of bed. They normally do not remember the episode the next day.
Know the triggers
There are things that can trigger night terrors. Once you know the triggers, you can either eliminate or avoid them altogether. Triggers include lack of sleep, stress, excess sugar or excitement before bed. Triggers can also include sleeping in an unfamiliar place, some types of medication, or fever.
Know how to help
Since night terrors are different than nightmares, it is important to know how to help a child who is experiencing night terrors. Even though they seem like they are awake, they are not. Their eyes may be open, but they are in a deep sleep.
Trying to arouse or awaken the child is a natural reaction, but you more than likely will not be able to or if you do, they will be more upset. Trying to calm the child is also something that may not work, so you will want to ensure their safety at best.
- You will want to close their door if they are out of bed so they do not wander around the house unsafely. Pick up anything from the floor so they do not trip or step on them during an episode. Stay with your child.
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine and be sure your child has had plenty of sleep the night before or during nap time. Try to stay on this schedule always. Make the routine soothing, quiet, and relaxing.
- Eliminate anything that might disrupt sleep like light or sounds.
- If your child experiences these episodes often, you will want to seek medical attention.
Being proactive when it comes to night terrors is the best way to handle the horrific time your child is experiencing. If you can eliminate what might trigger or cause the night terrors, you might be successful in eliminating the terror altogether. But mostly, a visit to a doctor is a must.