Friday, May 29, 2015

Night Terrors

Night terrors rank up there with things that are pretty horrible for parents, but ultimately usually not dangerous. If you want to practice your latin, they are also known as Pavor Nocturnus. These are not your typical nightmares. Your child might wake up screaming and thrashing. They may be sweating, wide eyed and terrified. Their hearts are racing. They seem frantic but you can't calm them down. No one is going to sleep through this. Except your child. They seem awake, but they won't remember a bit of this.

Your job is simple. Keep them safe until this passes. If your child is small, I have found that it is helpful to try to swaddle them with a big sheet. Think straight jacket! Hold the sheet wide and try to wrap around the thrashing arms until they are snuggled tightly. Sing quietly until they are calm. If you can't manage that, just make sure they don't hurt themselves until it is over. These rarely last longer than 20 minutes. Bigger kids might get even wilder if they feel restrained so see if you can put a comforting hand on them, but mostly you are just being present. If your child is toilet trained, see if you can manage to walk them to the bathroom and have them pee. Believe it or not, that might settle them down.

Pediatric night terrors happen to between 1-6% of kids. The typical age range is 3-12 years of age. There seems to be a genetic component. If you put your parents through this yourself, it is payback time. I think I may have had a few younger patients over the years that had bouts of these, but with really young infants, a sudden wake up is more likely from gas pains or something illness related.

These tend to happen in intervals and you may have days or weeks with frequent episodes and then they go away. It is worth trying to figure out if there is some extra stress or changes going on. Are they on any new medications? Any change in their diet? Lots of extra sugar perhaps? Are they overtired? Have they been watching any over-stimulating videos, movies or games (if they are in the room when an adult is playing or watching something, that counts)? If night terrors are happening on a routine basis and there is no obvious cause it is worth having them checked out by their physician. Some kids who are plagued with these for an extended period might have sleep apnea at the root of the problem.

Unlike dreams or nightmares, night terrors do not occur during the REM sleep. They usually occur during a phase of the sleep cycle that comes about 2-3 hours after falling asleep. If you are going through a stretch where you dealing with them nightly, some experts suggest breaking the cycle by waking your child about 15 minutes before they routinely occur (this would be a fine time to walk them to the bathroom for a "dream pee.") This assumes that you are on a regular bedtime routine and the terrors are happening roughly at the same time nightly.

Take comfort in knowing that extensive studies have found absolutely no correlation between
kids with night terrors and an increase in occurrence of psychiatric disorders.

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