Night terror is a form of sleep disorder in children and some adults and is usually accompanied by sleepwalking. Night terrors are different from nightmares in the sense that they have no recall value in children and usually occur during the early part of the sleep, after a child has had two to three hours of sleep.
In night terrors, children often wake up and sit upright with fear in their eyes, flail about or scream in terror. Their eyes are usually wide open with a sense of confusion and they may end up not recognizing their own parents. They sweat profusely, have rapid heartbeats and short rapid breaths and generally cannot be consoled by anyone.
Night terrors are a cause of great concern for parents who experience their child’s episode for the first time, as they do not know what to do or how to take care of their child in such a situation.
Most of the children who experience night terrors grow out of them by the time they reach adolescence.
Symptoms of night terror in children
When children experience night terrors they may elicit the following symptoms:
• They may sit up bolt-upright and stare with their eyes wide open on most occasions.
• The sitting posture is accompanied by a sense of extreme fear and panic.
• Some children may scream and shout and others may move their hands and legs rapidly, kicking and trashing.
• Some may even get up from the bed and run around in the room or the house.
• The body may have physiological changes like an increased heart rate, rate of breathing and increased sweating.
• The children who are experiencing night terrors may be disoriented and confused, often failing to recognize the environment or their parents.
• They are inconsolable, hard to awaken and do not respond to communication or talk
Causes of night terrors in children
Some of the causes and risk factors of night terror in children are listed below:
• Some studies indicate that night terrors and other sleep disorders may be passed on genetically. A family history of anxiety or depressive disorders increases the vulnerability of the child to night terrors.
• Increased stress or emotional stress
• Increased anxiety levels.
• Some kinds of medications and prescription drugs like sedatives, etc.
• Incidence of high fever
• Deprivation of sleep
• Increased exposure to noise or bright lights, while sleeping or otherwise
• Increased tiredness or fatigue
• Existing conditions such as head injuries or migraines may precipitate matters and increase the risk to get night terror episodes
• Sleep disturbances and disorders that cause unusual breathing patterns like sleep apnea, may also result in the occurrence of night terrors.
Treatment of night terror in children
Night terror results in a number of complications such as sleep deprivation due to frequent episodes. This may lead to sleep during the daytime, thereby affecting the school studies and the subsequent grades. In addition, night terrors may also result in personal injury or injury to others.
Hence it is important to treat the disorder as well as take preventive measures.
• Medications are usually not prescribed to children, but in severe cases benzodiazepines or tricyclic antidepressants may be given.
• If night terrors are caused by anxiety, then therapy and counseling is suggested.
• Usually, it is best for the parents to wait out the episode and help the child in getting back to sleep. Also, all the things that may cause night terrors like noise, lights, unfamiliar environment and lack of sleep should be avoided.
• Parents may also keep a note of the time during which the night terror episode occurs in their children and wake them up before they experience it. This is a good method to prevent night terrors which eventually leads to a change in sleeping pattern and a cure of night terrors in children.