Night terrors, a sleep disorder most often experienced by children, can be traumatizing for the whole family.
Not to be confused with nightmares, which are common and mild in comparison, true sleep terrors usually occur in children between 4 and 12 years old. They are characterized by intense crying episodes, terror, and the inability to wake up during an episode.
Night terrors occur during the transition between stage three and stage four non-REM sleep, approximately 90 minutes after a child falls asleep. They are in the same category of sleep disorders as sleepwalking or parasomnia.
Most children outgrow night terrors by the time they are teenagers, but any parent whose child has experienced them knows how upsetting they can be.
If your child has night terrors it might be frightening enough for you to desperately seek a solution. However, there are a lot of misconceptions about the disorder. As you ask other parents for solutions, you're likely to find a host of strange and often inaccurate advice.
One of the biggest myths about night terrors is that it is dangerous to try to wake a child in the middle of an episode. This myth may have come about due to the sheer difficulty of waking a child in the middle of a night terror.
Night terrors themselves are harmless, but occasionally a child will accidentally hurt themselves during an episode, so parents should take caution if a child starts thrashing violently.
Now, for the solution that most experts recommend.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. According to the Night Terrors Resource Center, the key to stopping night terrors is to interrupt the first sleep cycle before the night terror even occurs. This has been reported to be successful in nine out of 10 children.
Their method is simple: Because night terrors usually occur about 90 minutes into sleep, you should wake the child completely 15 minutes before that 90-minute mark — so make note of when your child falls asleep. It is suggested that you offer a sip of water, or take your child to the bathroom to make sure the child is fully awake. If you're worried about missing the crucial window, wake the child an hour into their first sleep cycle.
If trying this for a while is unsuccessful for you, it could be because they may not fit into the standard time frames mentioned. Try to observe when your child's night terrors occur. Simply wake them 15 to 30 minutes before the night terror is expected to occur. Once you "reset" their sleep cycle, they should sleep through the rest of the night without another episode.
Follow these simple steps for a week, set your clocks, and prepare for a decent night's sleep for the whole family. You all deserve it.