For those of you joining on from last edition, this blog is going to delve into the delicate and often confusing realm of sleep or separation anxiety in babies and young children. Last week, we discovered how sleep anxiety can be triggered in young children through fears of separation, an inability to self regulate sleep or through inconsistencies in sleep routine, however; other nasty sleep problems closely linked with anxiety could be lurking in the shadows!
Starting as early as 18 months, but more commonly among children around 4 – 5 years old, Night Terrors can lead to rather stressful sleeping patters for the whole family. A Night Terror is a rather mysterious infliction that occurs during the deep, non-dreaming sleeping phase, causing children to cry out, thrash, bolt awake or shock themselves from sleep. Night terrors differ from a standard nightmare in that they do not occur during a dreaming phase of sleep, rather than being a particular vision or scary dream a night terror is a sudden fear reaction that occurs while your child moves from one sleeping phase to the other. They can often last several minutes or longer, sometimes leading to injuries from thrashing or falling out of bed. As you can imagine, this can be frightening for young children and lead to serious sleep anxieties if not handled with sensitivity and gentle care! Fortunately, Night Terrors generally occur in no more than 6% of young children – so fingers crossed your child doesn’t encounter them – however, if your child does experience Night Terrors, there are several steps you can take to reduce their severity and occurrence.
Firstly, ensure that your child is getting enough sleep! Children who lack a consistent, well rested sleep routine are more likely to experience night terrors. By making sure your child’s sleep routine if well regulated and consistent, you can avoid fatigue and reduce their level of anxiety around bedtime. Stress also plays a crippling role in the occurrence of night terrors, so as discussed last week, developing a calming bedtime ritual that reduces anxiety can significantly reduce the severity or Night Terrors.
Finally, if your child is in the midst of experiencing a night terror, be careful not to alarm him or her by waking them too soon. Due to the nature of Night Terrors and their effect on the body, they will often cause your child to wake themselves in sudden (gentle) fits or movements, often creating anxiety or stress. If you wake your child from a Night Terror with restraint or force, the sudden shock, coupled with the image of you or your partner can be confusing and create a greater sense of fear. Rather than intervening, allow the Night Terror to take it’s course and gently time your arrival to soothe your child gently back to sleep. Here’s to happy (night terror free!) sleep for you and your child!
Happy, Healthy Sleep!