You are awakened by the sound of your screaming child who seems awake but is frozen in bed, terrified of something in the night. What to do?
These are the typical manifestations of night terrors. Also known as sleep terrors or pavor nocturnus, night terrors are a common sleep problem among children. They usually occur between 3 and 12 years old, but can also happen at any age.
Night terrors usually happen early in the night, and starts as a sudden awakening from sleep. It is accompanied by screaming, a feeling of terror or fear, confusion and a rapid heart rate, and the child usually would have no recollection of what happened. They are usually difficult to wake up, but can return to sleep easily.
It is different, however, from a nightmare, which happens during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Children may or may not scream, but will remember vividly what transpired. In contrast to night terrors, children having nightmares are easily woken up, and can be comforted.
Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is another common sleep problem among children. For no reason at all, a kid may just wake up, sit up, or actually walk around. Similar to night terrors, this occurs during non-REM sleep, and the child often does not remember having walked around. Sleeptalking can also occur with sleepwalking, as well as night terrors.
As this is a scary event for most parents especially the first time it happens, common reactions to a child with night terrors include trying to wake the child up by shaking him or yelling at him. However, because the child does not know what is happening, he is likely to become agitated or even scared as a reaction to your panic.