These sleep concerns can be quite scary if you are the lucky few who get to experience them. They are routinely confused with nightmares but I am here to tell you that these two sleep issues are distinctly different.
Here’s the facts:
Nightmares are your typical “I had a bad dream”. Your child may wake up scared, wanting a parent to comfort them and can usually recall the vivid images they just encountered. Typically this happens in the early hours of the morning. Night terrors are completely different.
You may notice that night terrors will usually occur within two to three hours of going to sleep. This is when your child will begin to switch sleep cycles and their body “stalls” during the non rem sleep cycle. During this transition, you may hear your infant suddenly scream at the top of their lungs, stomp around their crib or room or be down right inconsolable. You may also notice sweat residue on their clothes, their heart racing and eyes wide open. This behavior may last anywhere from 5-15 minutes – occasionally it lasts longer. Night terrors make your child have this erratic behavior but the truth is that they are really still asleep and will have no memory of this in the morning. You may notice that boys portray these tactics more often than girls, as it has been scientifically noted to be more popular in the male populations. If you happen to experience some of these behaviors you are among the lucky 5% of the families.
Sometimes sleep terrors can be predictable if you child is sleep deprived or has disturbances in his/hers sleep. If some children become stressed, unwell or have sleep apnea, there is a good chance they are experiencing night terrors as opposed to nightmares.
I always get this question from parents asking what to do if they experience such an event and the short answer is nothing, you can only try to prevent them. When your child experiences a night terror, most importantly is to make sure they are safe. You do not need to talk to them or touch them as you may scare them if they come out of a night terror while you are doing this. This is similar to people who sleep walk. To help prevent these episodes you can try to put your child to bed a bit earlier at night. This may even be 15-30 minutes prior to their typical bedtime. If your child still needs a daily nap, try to fit that in – even on the busiest of days. If this is a routine occurrence in your house and you can pin point when this will happen during the night, you may want to wake them up and take them to the washroom. This will help them before transitioning into the next sleep cycle and help reset their nighttime sleep. It also might be in your interest to look into the gadget “Lully – The Sleep Guarding”. This is a device that wakes a child prior to entering the troubled sleep cycle which has raving reviews by many professionals.