How to Handle Night Terrors in Children

Nightmares are a big part of childhood, but it can be distressing for parents whenever they have to deal with a child’s night terror. In this article, TEMPUR® explore what night terrors are, and offer advice on how families can help their kids whenever they have a night terror, allowing them to get the good night’s sleep they need.

What are night terrors?

Nightmares and night terrors sound similar, but they’re actually very different things. A nightmare occurs during dream sleep, or REM sleep, and is just another word for a bad dream. Nightmares can cause children to wake up, leaving them scared to go back to sleep and needing parental reassurance. Children often remember their nightmares and may attempt to describe them to you the next day.

A child having a night terror may scream or shout in their sleep, but they typically won’t wake up. Their eyes might be open, though, and they can even flail their arms and legs, which is why early detection is important. Episodes are usually short, lasting from a few seconds to a few minutes, and it’s common for the child not to remember the incident the following morning. Night terrors are often caused by a lack of sleep, or a particular stress, fear or concern your child has.

Both nightmares and night terrors in children are common, and they usually grow out of them as they get older.

How to deal with night terrors

If your child has a night terror, the most important thing is to stay calm. Although it can be scary to watch, unless it looks like your child might injure themselves, try to avoid touching them, and never try to wake them up, as this could cause more distress. The best thing to do is wait for the night terror to end and your child to return to their normal sleep pattern.

The next day, you could try asking your child whether there’s anything on their mind – this sometimes helps to ascertain why they are having night terrors. Avoid using negative or frightening language to prevent your child from becoming worried or anxious.

If your child has repeated night terrors, e.g. several times a night or most nights, and their quality of sleep is suffering, consider taking them to a doctor or specialist for advice.

Creating a good bedtime routine

High-quality sleep is extremely important for children, especially when going back to school after the holidays. Sometimes, a relaxing bedtime routine for kids helps them to wind down before bed, reducing the likelihood of bad dreams or night-time disturbances.

To help your child maintain a good bedtime routine, you can take the following steps each night:

  • Stop playtime a couple of hours before bed
  • Reduce use of screens, including TV and video games
  • Give your child a warm bath and brush their teeth
  • Dim the lights and tuck your child into bed with a favourite toy
  • Check that their mattress is comfortable enough
  • Read your child a bedtime story or sing to them

Try to do this at the same time each night so your child gets used to the routine. Hopefully they will have a good night’s sleep and wake up refreshed and ready to tackle the day!

Do your children suffer from night terrors? How do you help your kids get to sleep? Let us know in the comments below…

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