Toddler Fears: Night Terrors
Nightmares are vivid dreams that typically occur in the early morning hours, while night terrors happen in the first part of the night. Nightmares happen during REM sleep, and if the child is roused, he will be able to remember the dream. Night terrors happen during deep sleep and if roused (which can only happen with great difficulty, if at all) the child will not remember anything. A child that is experiencing a night terror will appear to look right through you as if you are not there.
Night terrors happen when a child partially rouses from deep sleep—most of his brain is shut down, but portions of his motor circuits are still functioning.
Symptoms of night terrors may include:
- Sitting upright with their eyes wide open
- Exhibiting fear and panic
- Screaming, crying, thrashing about
- Breathing hard
- Rapid pulse rate
The episodes can last anywhere from five minutes to an hour, when the child usually goes back to sleep. Do not try to wake your child from a night terror, as it will confuse and scare him. Make sure that your child is safe during the episode and hold them gently if you can.
No medical treatment is necessary for night terrors, however you can help to prevent them by making sure that your child is not overtired and that he is getting enough rest. Your child should eventually outgrow the episodes. In the meantime, make sure that you tell any other caregivers about your child's night terrors so they will know what to do.
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