Argh! A few days ago, our son Dillon experienced his very first night terror – who knew they could be so terrifying!
Dillon was fast asleep in his cot when we heard crying – only Dillon was limp, unresponsive with his eyes glazed. For a few minutes he didn’t even recognise us, his own parents!
Usually when I try to breastfeed him he responds and latches on, during this night terror he just cried and didn’t respond to my attempt at comforting him by feeding him. Our son was literally lifeless. Our first thoughts were panic and confusion – what could it be? Should we phone 999? We’d just spent the day celebrating Dillon’s first birthday.
After consulting lots of Dr Google we came to the conclusion Dillon had his very first night terror. It only lasted a few minutes but felt like it went on for ages. We are still shaking now!
My husband and I never knew there are such a thing as night terrors until now. I had never heard of them – what is a night terror? Why did Dillon have one? Is it a nightmare? How do they differ from nightmares?
A night terror can be an unconscious state where your child may scream and cry and be unresponsive; they are frightening to observe (we were left shaken)! They are caused by over arousal of the central nervous system during sleep. One theory as to why they occur is that a child’s central nervous system is still maturing so causes sensory overload resulting in night terrors.
Night terrors occur during deep non REM sleep, can be quite dramatic to watch; although your child will not remember a thing. Nightmares are different in that your child will wake from a scary dream, and remember it.
Signs your child is having a night terror:
- Crying or thrashing about in their sleep
- Appear to have a sudden reaction or fear to something (hence shrilled crying)
- A child might suddenly sit up in bed or let out a distressing scream
- Although they might be crying, they may still appear lifeless and ‘not really there’
So, what do you do if your child has a night terror:
- Try not to panic – that’s what I did and it doesn’t really help things. As frightening as they are to watch, try to comfort your child until the night terror is over (anytime from a few to several minutes)
- You shouldn’t wake a child in the middle of a night terror for fear of startling them
- Give your child lots of cuddles, it will help them to feel safe and secure
- Let the night terror pass. Your child will not remember the night terror and may fall back to sleep right after
- Night terrors tend to happen within the first few hours of falling asleep
Naturally, I have been looking into ways of preventing a night terror episode happening again. What I have learnt is:
- Don’t let your child get over tired by making sure they don’t miss their naps during the day
- Reduce sensory neural overload. In other words try not to overstimulate your child during the day
- Keep to a strict bedtime so they have a routine lessening the need to fight their sleep
- Try and stick to a consistent relaxing routine before bed such as bedtime reading, brushing teeth and even a bath before bedtime to help relax your child
- Reduce any stress triggers your child may face during the day
- Don’t let your child have any sugary snacks in the evening and instead try a high carb snack like toast to prevent their blood sugar level from spiking
Children usually grow out of night terrors by around the age of 4. If they occur regularly, do go and see your doctor. In the meantime, don’t worry mummy (and daddy); they are really not as bad as they seem.