If your child seems terrified and very disturbed in the middle of the night, while he is sleeping, he may not be having an ordinary nightmare. He may experience something different: a night terror. He then has his eyes open, he moves, he screams and he looks terrified. The crisis can last from 1 to 20 minutes.
Sometimes he will have an incoherent speech and he will not be able to answer your questions adequately. He does not recognize you and has no – or little – awareness of your presence. He is sometimes aggressive and most of the time he cannot bear being touched or held. When you wake up in the morning, most children do not remember what happened.
Night terrors are much less common than nightmares. Only 3% of children do it and it is more often boys. They are also more common in families where one parent – or grandparent – has also had night terrors.
Night terrors often occur when the child is 3 years old to 5 years old. It is possible, however, that they are manifested earlier, around 18 months. As you get older, the child will be more likely to be sleepwalking (walking while sleeping) or talking while sleeping. Usually, this resolves to adolescence to sometimes resume in adulthood. The child may also be peeing in bed (nocturnal enuresis).
Night terrors can occur when the child:
- Is excessively tired;
- Lives changes in his daily life that make him anxious (separation, moving, changing daycare, etc.);
- Stop taking naps or when sleep patterns change.
In addition, when a child is sick or has a fever, night terrors may appear more frequently.
In these moments, the child recovers from his lack of sleep by an extension of the phase of deep sleep, phase during which the night terrors are manifested. These seizures usually occur at the same time, 60 to 90 minutes after the child has fallen asleep.
What you can do
- When your child is a victim of night terror, do not try to wake him up, even if he looks deeply upset. Make sure that he is safe in his bed.
- You can also try to calm him by putting your hand on him, gently saying “hush” and gently recollecting it. If he really wakes up, comfort him and reassure him that everything is fine, that you are there and that he can go back to sleep.
- Remember that he has no memory of this event. If you react too much, he may be afraid of your reaction. You may be able to rub his back, humming softly, or lie down next to him for a few moments.
- If he is used to it, you can also let him fall asleep alone. Staying at his side could lead him to believe that something serious or important has happened.
The next day and the following days
- Do not talk about this moment to your child unless he does it himself, which is unlikely in the case of a night terror. If you talk to him, you may scare him and he may want to avoid going to bed at night. Ask him rather if all is well if he has any concerns.
- If your child has stopped taking naps, it may be helpful to take them back and gradually reduce the duration.
- Make sure the bedtime routine soothes it. Avoid watching scary TV shows and playing computer or video games. Also set aside terrifying stories (even the wicked wolf can be scary).
- It is also recommended to avoid intense sports, heavy meals and activities that require too much imagination too close to bedtime.
- You can foster a peaceful atmosphere by telling a great story, bathing, lighting a night light, singing a song, or talking about the pleasant events of the day.
- Simple breathing exercises can also be done to promote better relaxation.
Night after night …
In the event that terrors recur every night, and in this case only, doctors advise parents to wake up their child 30 minutes before the time when night-time terror usually occurs. prevent it from happening. You can bring him to the toilet or give him a drink, before letting him go back to sleep by himself. We can do this every night for 1 week and then see if the demonstrations stop. If the situation does not improve, consult a doctor.