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When Nightmares Turn To Night Terrors

By DuPage Medical Group Sleep Medicine

Also known as sleep terrors, night terrors can be alarming. Night terrors usually don’t harm or scare the person having the dream, so they may seem more frightening to an observer. Night terrors are rare and usually affect children between the ages of four and 12; however, adults can also experience night terrors.

Night terrors differ from nightmares. A person who has a nightmare may wake up and remember certain details of the dream. Someone who has a night terror will often fall back asleep and not have any recollection of the incident.

Night terrors involve screaming, intense fear, and flailing while asleep. In other cases, some individuals may kick or thrash, scream, shout, sit up in bed, sweat, breathe heavily, have a racing pulse, run around the house and be difficult to awaken or console. Usually, a night terror episode is paired with sleepwalking.

There are several reasons/triggers why night terrors occur:

  • Extreme tiredness or sleep deprivation
  • Stress
  • Children with a fever
  • Light
  • Noise
  • Sleeping in an unfamiliar environment
  • Overfull bladder

If your child has occasional night terrors, they usually go away on their own. You can mention it at your child’s next doctor appointment just to let them know. If night terrors are a regular part of the night, you see a pattern in the night terrors, or night terrors make you or your child afraid of going to sleep, make sure you talk to your physician.

If night terrors are causing problems at home, here are 5 methods you can try to alleviate them.

  • Make the environment safe. Lock outside doors, move electrical wires or other objects, or install gates to block doorways and stairs.
  • Get more sleep. Fatigue and sleep deprivation can contribute to night terrors. Try to get to bed earlier and aim for a more regular sleep schedule.
  • Be calm before bed. Do relaxing activities such as reading, doing puzzles, or soaking in a warm bath. Stretching and meditation exercises can help too.
  • Keep stress in check. Figure out what is causing you or your child stress and try to manage it.
  • Look for a pattern. If night terrors are reoccurring, keep a sleep journal and note when night terrors occur. If there is a pattern, try and wake your child up 15 minutes before you think a night terror might happen. Have them stay awake for five minutes and then fall back asleep. 

Topics and Subtopics: Sleep & Children's Health

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