There are few things more comforting than knowing your little one is getting a quality night’s rest. Whether you use a baby comforter, a special blanket or scatter their ceilings with twinkling starlight, you will do anything to ensure your toddler is snug as a bug in the peaceful land of dreams.
But what happens when your child suddenly wakes up screaming or panicking for no obvious reason? What happens when your fully potty trained toddler starts wetting the bed, hitting or throwing things or not being able to recognise you when you try to calm them down?
If this scenario sounds familiar, then your child may be suffering from night terrors. Unlike nightmares, night terrors occur when your toddler partially awakes during deep, non-REM sleep. Usually lasting around 15 minutes, symptoms can be distressing and frustrating for parents (although your child is unlikely to be aware of their actions or remember anything about the episode the next day).
During a night terror, your child may:
Appear frightened, disoriented or confused
Scream out or cry excessively
Talk nonsense or babble more than usual
Hit out or throw objects
Uncharacteristically wet the bed
Get out of bed or move around
Not recognise you or other members of your family
Not remember the episode the following day
So what exactly causes night terrors and what can you do to manage them?
First of all, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone – night terrors are relatively common; affecting around 6 % of children. It is thought that illness, over-tiredness and certain medications can bring episodes on as well as over-excitement and anxiety. A loud noise that wakes your toddler during the night may also cause a night terror.
Implementing and following a regular bedtime routine will help your child to relax before falling asleep which may reduce the risk of a night terror occurring. If your toddler can talk, it may be worth having a chat to discover if there is a specific problem bothering them that could be contributing to their night terrors.
Remember that even though witnessing a night terror may be disturbing, they won’t do your toddler any harm.
If you are worried about your child’s night terrors, contact your GP for advice.