Feral screams escaping from your child’s bedroom in the middle of the night are disturbing, especially if they tend to occur on more than one occasion and around the same time each night. Parents having flashbacks to scenes from the Exorcist should consider a sleep disturbance kids may suffer from known as night terrors.
Sleep has multiple stages characterized by wave patterns. The initial stage consists of non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. About two to three hours after falling asleep, the transition from the non-REM to the REM period occurs and it is during this transition that kids may become agitated and frightened in the process, which results in disturbed sleep. The cause is an immature central nervous system dealing with overarousal due to outside factors such as stress, illness, or medication and kids between the ages of four and twelve are at risk.
Night terror episodes typically differ from nightmares because kids do not readily recall these as they do with nightmares. Parents may find a shrieking child sitting up, glassy-eyed and hysterical in the middle of the night but the child may have no memory of the event as they munch on toast in the morning. Although for parents night terrors are somewhat more acute and scarier than when they find kids in their bed after experiencing a nightmare, for kids it’s the opposite. Following a night terror episode, kids typically go back to sleep as soon as they calm down because there is no conscious fear. Children experiencing nightmares may have difficulty going back to sleep or dread bedtime since they remember what frightens them.
The best way to cope with these terrors is to wait them out. As hard as that may sound, parents can find comfort in knowing that kids will grow out of these terrors. To avoid frequent recurrence parents can make sure children are well rested and talk out their daily stresses.