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General Practice 2023

Night terror: what é, causes, symptoms and what to do

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Night terror: what é, causes, symptoms and what to do
Night terror: what é, causes, symptoms and what to do

Night terror is a sleep disorder in which the child cries or screams during the night, but without waking up, and it happens more frequently in children aged between 3 and 7 years. During a night terror episode, parents should remain calm, protect the child from possible hazards such as falling out of bed, and wait for the situation to end in about 10 to 20 minutes.

This type of disorder is not the same thing as a nightmare, as it is considered a parasomnia, which is a set of sleep disorders in childhood, due to the behavioral changes that occur in the episodes. Night terrors can appear at any stage of sleep, but it is more common in the transition state between sleep and wakefulness.

The causes of night terrors are not well defined, but they may be related to he alth problems, such as fever, excessive physical activity, emotional stress or consumption of exciting foods, such as coffee. This disorder can be diagnosed by a pediatrician or psychiatrist and has no specific treatment, being a sleep routine and stress reduction the most suitable ways to improve night terrors.

Symptoms of Night Terror

Night terror episodes tend to last an average of 15 minutes and at the time of night terror, the child does not respond to what parents say, does not react when comforted and some children may get up and run. The next day, children usually do not remember what happened. Other symptoms that are indicative of night terrors are:

  • Agitation;
  • Eyes wide, despite not being fully awake;
  • Screams;
  • Confused and scared child;
  • Heart racing;
  • Cold sweat;
  • Breathing fast;
  • Peeing in bed.

When these episodes of night terrors are very frequent and last a long time, it is important to consult a pediatrician or psychiatrist to confirm the diagnosis. The doctor may order tests to rule out that the child has other diseases, such as seizures or narcolepsy, which is a sleep disorder in which the person can sleep soundly at any time of the day. Learn more about narcolepsy and its symptoms.

Possible causes

There is no specific reason for the appearance of night terrors and this disorder and in most cases does not harm the child and does not cause any he alth problems. The emergence of night terrors is also not related to spiritualism or religion, it is actually a child's sleep disorder, known as parasomnia.

However, some situations can contribute to worsening night terror episodes such as fever, excessive physical activity, consumption of foods rich in caffeine, emotional stress and depression.

What to do to relieve

To alleviate children's night terrors, parents need to remain calm and should not wake the child, as the child does not know what is happening and may not recognize the parents, becoming more frightened and agitated. Therefore, the most important thing is to keep the environment safe and wait for the child to calm down and go back to sleep.

After the night terror is over, parents can wake up the child by taking him to the bathroom to pee, avoiding talking about what happened because the child doesn't remember anything. The next day, parents should have a conversation with the child to see if there is anything that is making them worried or stressed.

How to prevent episodes

To prevent night terror episodes, it is important to know if there is any situation in the child's life that is causing stress and causing some kind of internal conflict, and if this happens, it is recommended to seek help from a child psychologist, as this professional can help with therapy and techniques tailored to the child.

Also, it is important to create a relaxing sleep routine before bedtime, such as taking a hot bath, reading a story and playing soothing music, as this helps improve the child's sleep quality. Medications should only be used on medical advice and are generally used only when the child has some other associated emotional disorder.

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