Imagine going to bed at night after putting a child to sleep and at some point suddenly you hear hysterical crying, and when you check on the child they are sleeping, crying, or screaming at the same time. At that moment you imagine that they are having a bad dream, but when you try to calm the child down, you wonder how they don’t wake up from it but instead keep screaming no matter what you do.
This is called the night terrors or sleep terrors; According to the Mayo Clinic, sleep horrors are episodes of screaming, intense fear, and thrashing in sleep. Also known as night terrors, sleep terrors are often paired with sleepwalking. Like sleepwalking, sleep horror is considered a parasomnia – an undesirable event during sleep. The sleep terror episode usually lasts from seconds to a few minutes, but episodes can last longer.
These episodes are common in young infants and a small percentage of adults and are usually not of concern as most children will have outgrown them by their teens.
“I slept with my little brother in the same bedroom and every time I woke up in the middle of the night from his screams and screams, it scared me and I didn’t try to calm him down. I would shake him to pull him out of his nightmare, ”says Allan Mugisha.
However, according to Healthline, night terrors are different from nightmares. When you wake up from a nightmare, you will likely remember at least some of what the dream was about. During the nighttime horror, you continue to sleep and usually don’t remember what happened when you wake up. You may remember a scene from a dream that you had during the episode, but it is uncommon to remember a different part of the experience.
What causes night terrors?
Dr. Rachna Pande, a specialist in internal medicine, explains that night anxiety in children and adults can have different causes.
“Night terrors usually occur due to lack of sleep, anxiety, and the use of products containing caffeine. In young children, it can result from something stressful or frightening that the child experienced or saw while awake and unable to express their fear. Sometimes it can be due to dyspeptic symptoms or other physical problems, ”she explains.
Sleep Foundation explains that night terrors are less common in adults, but adults with a childhood history of night terrors may have a recurrence of the episodes triggered by stress, sleep deprivation, or developing another sleep disorder. As with adolescents, sleep scares can be particularly worrying in adults because they are at greater risk of injury to themselves or other household members if violent behavior occurs during the episode. Adolescents and adults seldom remember details of the night horror.
It is best not to try to wake children during a night horror. This usually doesn’t work, and children who wake are likely to be disoriented and confused and may take longer to calm down and go back to sleep, suggests Kids Health, a source of medically verified information.
“To prevent nighttime anxiety, you should sleep as calmly and peacefully as possible. Keep the toddler away from television programs, domestic quarrels, and stressful situations. Never threaten him or make him fear an imaginary person or ghost during the day. Try to get him to sleep at a set time each night. The room should be quiet, say something, or sing something reassuring to it. Make sure that the room is not completely dark. In most cases, these measures work. Dr. Pande advises.
Mayo Clinic suggests that to prevent sleep scares you:
Get enough sleep. Fatigue can contribute to fear of sleep. If you are sleep-deprived, try bedtime earlier and sleep more regularly. Sometimes a quick nap can help.
Make the environment safe. To avoid injury, close and lock all windows and exterior doors at night. You can even lock interior doors or add alarms or bells. Block doors or stairs with a gate and move power cables or other objects that present a trip hazard.
Look for a pattern. If your child has sleep anxiety, keep a sleep diary. For several nights, write down the number of minutes after bedtime you experience a sleep terror episode. When the timing is fairly constant, anticipatory awakenings can help.
If they seem to be coming more frequently, experts recommend seeing a local psychologist or doctor to check that no other problems arise.