If the parent thinks the child is having a nightmare, wake him and give him lots of hugs and kisses. A child having a nightmare can be awoken and consoled in contrast to a child with night terrors which ends spontaneously.
Usually start between the ages of four and twelve years of age. If they start before puberty they are not associated with any emotional or personality problems.
When do they mostly occur?
When a child has a fever or when sleep patterns are disrupted naturally like on long trips, school vacations, holidays or when relatives come to visit. Recurrent night terrors also are often associated with consistent abnormal sleep schedules.
What happens in a night terror?
As with sleep walking and sleep talking night terrors all occur mainly during non-REM sleep and usually within the first two hours of going to sleep. Night terrors are NOT bad dreams. Children in fact have no recollection of them once awake.
The most common characteristic of a night terror is the piercing scream. The child look anxious, his eyes might be dilated, sweat on his forehead and when you go to hug and console him he pushes you away like you are a stranger to him. This can last 5-15 minutes and then it all subsides and the child might go instantly back to sleep.
Can night terrors be avoided?
Probably most can. Usually once the disruption of sleep due to vacations etc. is gone then once the child gets back into his more normal sleeping routine can make them disappear. However, the child who is chronically tired, maybe because of a bedtime which is too late for him might only need a change in his bedtime by 30 minutes earlier. After possibly a week or so of an earlier bedtime the terrors will cease.
It's best to let the child get through the terror by himself without intervention but be sure to move any objects you feel could hurt him if a terror is more physical. By letting the child get through the terror without intervention means a quicker return to sleep on his own. If you awaken the child, he will be confused and scared because remember he doesn't realize it has happened and by seeing your face in distress will not only frighten him but it might in fact produce another terror soon after he returns to sleep because of this continued loss of sleep.
Sleep walking starting under the age of ten and ending by fifteen years of age is not associated with any emotional stress, negative personality types or behavioral problems.
Sleep walking occurs in the first two to three hours after falling asleep. The sleep walk itself can last up to 30 minutes. Other occurrences can happen during a sleep walk like eating, dressing and opening doors.
As far as treating sleep walking, it is best to keep an open path for the night walker. As with terrors, it is best not to waken them for the child will not have any memory of this episode and might confuse him.
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