Has your child ever screamed out in the middle of the night but doesn’t really seem to be awake? If so they are probably having a night terror, which typically occur in children during the toddler, pre-school and early elementary years.
Night terrors occur during the first few hours after a child falls asleep, when non-REM sleep is the deepest. During a night terror your child may cry out, with their eyes wide open and their pupils dilated. They often are breathing fast and heavy and may seem to be agitated and sweaty.
While they may appear to be awake, in reality they are only partially aroused. A child having a night terror will not recognize you and may not allow you to comfort them, becoming even more agitated if you try to hold them or calm them down.
Night terrors often terrify parents as well. Many a parent, including me, tried to figure out what in the world would cause a child such distress while they were sleeping?
Night terrors are similar to sleep walking episodes in older children. Children who are old enough to communicate will have no idea that they had been awake during the night and when asked have no memory of the event.
Night terrors seem to be more frequent in children who have not had a good night’s sleep, so try to have a regular bedtime routine and always limit television and video exposure prior to bedtime.