Ways to Handle Your Child’s Night Terrors

Night terrors typically occur around 2 or 3 hours after a child has fallen asleep, during the transition from deep non-REM sleep to lighter REM sleep, where dreams occur. While this transition is usually smooth, occasionally a child may become agitated and fearful, resulting in a night terror.

During a night terror episode, a child may suddenly sit upright in bed, shouting or screaming in distress. Their breathing and heartbeat may accelerate, accompanied by sweating, thrashing, and expressions of fear. After a few minutes or longer, the child typically calms down and returns to sleep.

When dealing with night terrors, it’s important to remain calm. It’s likely that the child won’t recall these incidents and won’t be traumatized by them. However, providing comfort and ensuring safety is essential. While the child may appear inconsolable, adults who experience night terrors often find comfort in the calm, reassuring presence of loved ones. Offering hugs, if accepted, can also provide comfort.

Minimizing stress in the child’s life is crucial during this phase. Avoid introducing major developmental challenges such as toilet training. Ensure the child is not exposed to loud voices or emotional stressors. Utilize positive discipline methods rather than stressful ones like spanking or yelling. Maintain a consistent schedule and minimize nights away from home.

It’s advisable to eliminate television for children under 24 months old, as it can negatively impact brain development and cause stress. Additionally, preventing the child from becoming overtired can reduce the likelihood of night terrors. Establishing a regular bedtime routine and ensuring sufficient sleep is important. Gradually moving bedtime earlier can help children fall asleep easier and prevent over-arousal.