Night Terrors and Sleepwalking: How You Can Cope
Just when you thought you were finished with 3 AM feedings and babies with nocturnal tendencies, you enter the toddler phase of night terrors and sleepwalking. Sounds spooky, eh? But there’s no need to worry – we’ll tell you why they’re happening, and what you can do to help your child sleep better and stay safe... and to stop freaking you out in the middle of the night!
Nightmare or Night Terror?
There is a difference. A nightmare occurs during REM sleep, the dreaming part of sleeping that happens during the last half of the night for kids 3 years of age and up. Kids can remember them and can usually be soothed when a nightmare wakes them up.
Night terrors happen during non-REM sleep. Tots 18 months and up can start having these during the first third portion of their sleep. They stay in a sleeping state and don’t realize or remember the episode. They may also sleep walk at this time too.
Night Terror on Elm Street
Night terrors happen like clockwork for most. If a night terror is experienced, it will happen 2-3 hours after your child falls asleep, just when your child is coming out of non-REM to a lighter, REM sleep.
For most, this is a smooth transition. But if they become agitated or frightened, it can result in a night terror. Your kiddo has no idea it’s happening, but it’s scary for parents because we’re awakening from sleep to hear our child screaming and thrashing about.
Pair night terrors with sleepwalking, and you have your own real-life zombie movie. The two aren’t always combined, but it’s not uncommon either.
As with night terrors, sleep walking happens during non-REM sleep, and the child has no idea they’re doing it. Their eyes will be open, and they’ll move about the house as if they are awake. They may even pick things up, or eat (!). They won’t hear you or understand what you’re saying. They will likely go back to bed in a few minutes with no recollection of what happened the next morning.
The best solution is to keep them safe. You may consider safety gates on the stairs for toddlers, or bells on doors to alert you if you have a sleep walker who likes to roam. Never let a sleep walking toddler or child sleep on the top bunk of a bunk bed. Safety latches on cabinets where detergents and household cleaners may be prudent as your child may mistake a bottle of cleaner for something to drink.
What’s Going On?
Experts think night terrors are related to being overtired or stressed. A new sleeping environment and taking new medications may be factors as well. However, if the night terrors are occurring on a regular basis, anxiety may be the culprit. You may want to keep a food, mood, and sleep diary to identify possible triggers.
Some parents have found that gently waking a child before the night terror ensues works to end the cycle. Here’s how you do it: Via your sleep diary, you know when your child usually wakes up, so set your alarm clock and then gently wake your child 15 -30 minutes before the night terror. This partial wakening will bypass the end of the cycle when the night terror occurs, and move on to the next sleep cycle.
Wait it Out
You may feel helpless, but there isn’t a lot that can be done when your child is having a night terror. They can last for a few minutes to an hour. The best thing you can do is remain calm and say nothing. It’s best not to wake them, because they don’t even realize the night terror is happening. Waking them up could make things worse. You can try to talk to them in a soft voice and hold/hug them, but if they pull away, don’t force it. Just make sure they remain safe until they fall back asleep. Consult with your doctor if you feel they are experiencing more daytime fear, or feel that stress may be a factor.
What seems to help when your child is experiencing night terrors/sleepwalking?Tags : health safety sleeping toddlers