There are few things more bone-chilling and saddening than waking up to your child screaming in the middle of the night. Sleep is still somewhat of a mystery, and our brains can come up with all kinds of things to scare us. This includes nightmares and night terrors.
Nightmares Vs Night Terrors
What some people don’t know is that there is a big difference between nightmares and night terrors.
Nightmares are experienced when children (and sometimes adults) awaken from a vivid dream with an intense feeling of fear caused by something that happened in the dream. Children can usually recall what happened with a fair bit of detail. In addition, the “scary things” can often be attributed to a child seeing or hearing something that scares them. They can be things that are real, or make-believe (such as monsters).
Nightmares affect approximately 30-90 per cent of children aged 3-6.
Night terrors are partial arousals from sleep where a child may scream, shout or kick as if they are in an intense panic. They may sit upright in their bed with their eyes wide open. Despite this, they are not fully conscious, and they are not likely to notice the presence of their parents. The episodes usually last between 10 and 30 minutes. Fortunately, most of the time, the child won’t remember anything from the event.
Night terrors affect approximately 3 per cent of children aged 4-12.
What You Can Do to Help
When it comes to nightmares, consoling your child is the best way to help them calm down. Assure them that there is nothing to be scared of, that the nightmare wasn’t real and that they are safe here with you. Be open to discuss what happened in their nightmare if they’re willing to talk about it. A nightlight or stuffed animal may provide some comfort. Be sure to keep your child away from movies or images that are not age-appropriate, as this can lead to nightmares.
When it comes to night terrors, however, the best thing you can do is wait the episode out. Since your child isn’t fully conscious, consoling or attempting to wake them will likely not do anything. Make sure their environment is safe so that they can’t hurt themselves from moving around. Once the episode has passed, it’s safe to wake them. It may also be a good idea to keep them awake for a bit, as this lowers the chance of another night terror happening in the same night.
The bottom line is that both nightmares and night terrors, as terrifying as they may be, are normal occurrences. They rarely have long lasting psychological effects on children.
If your child’s nightmares or night terrors occur frequently or you have any concerns about their sleep patterns or anxiety, take them to your GP.
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