Tips for parents in battling their children's night terrors

NIGHT terrors of children can be a major concern for parent, particularly due to their physical nature.

There is support available on the Fraser Coast for night terror problems, with appropriate staff located at  The Village in Hervey Bay, and at the Bauer-Wiles Building Maryborough.

Help is also available by calling the Wide Bay Health and Hospital Service Fraser Coast child health team on 4122 8733.

What are night terrors?

Night terrors are when your child gets overly agitated but remains in a deep state of sleep. They often start with a scream, then your child will start thrashing about and screaming more.

It will look like your child is in a panic - they may sweat and breathe deeply, sit up in the bed, start crying and open their eyes - but they're not awake!

Night terrors differ from nightmares. Children are usually awake and distressed after a nightmare, but they sleep through night terrors and don't remember them when they wake up.

Night terrors will also happen during the first few hours of sleep, when your child is sleeping very deeply. Nightmares tend to happen in the second half of the night, during phases of REM (or dreaming) sleep. 

What causes night terrors?

Children are more likely to have night terrors if they're not well. Another very common cause is not having enough sleep.

Night terrors can run in families. Your child is more likely to have night terrors if someone else in the family has had them.

Night terrors are part of the normal development of sleep in children. They'll usually go away by themselves as your child gets older.

What do you do when your child has a night terror?

  • Avoid waking your child. A child having a night terror will only be confused and disorientated if you wake them. If you leave them asleep, the night terror will be over more quickly and your child won't remember it ever happened.
  • Wait for your child to stop thrashing around. Guide them back to bed (if they got out) and tuck them in - they'll usually settle back to sleep quickly at this stage. If you think they might get hurt, stay close to guide them away from hitting or bumping anything.
  • Try not to worry. Night terrors don't mean there's anything wrong with your child.
  • If you think lack of sleep could be the cause, a regular bedtime routine of bath, story and bed might help your child feel ready for sleep.

When to get help for night terrors

If you're still concerned, or the night terrors seem prolonged or violent, seek professional advice.

If your child is having night terrors along with other sleeping difficulties - or your child also has breathing problems like snoring - talk with your GP about an ear, nose and throat assessment.

Even if you just want to have a chat and a bit of reassurance, the WBHHS child health team is available.

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