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Approximately 5 in every 100 children experience night frights; a condition wherein the child will awake within the first few hours of falling asleep by screaming, crying or thrashing their arms and legs. These disturbing episodes predominantly affect children aged between 3 and 12 years old; with peak night fright onsets occurring when children are around 3 and a half years old.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, 36 million children experience sleep disorders on a weekly basis and they estimate that nearly 25% of children aged between 2 and 12 years old will experience at least one night fright. If your child suffers from night frights it can adversely affect the sleeping habits of your entire family. Moreover, these episodes can be extremely unsettling for parents to watch when you do not know what to do to help your child.
At Eden Private Staff we recognise this dilemma and in response have created the following guide to inform parents how to deal with night frights. By absorbing the information outlined in this guide and by utilising the tried and tested techniques that are recommended from our team of sleep consultants, you can identify the root causes of your child’s night frights in order to prevent them from occurring again in the future.
Why Night Frights Occur
Night frights, or ‘night terrors’ as they are also named, are often misinterpreted as nightmares. However, whereas conventional nightmares occur during dream sleep (REM), night frights are triggered when children wake from a deep, non-dream sleep. As such, when your child has night frights they will not be fully conscious of their surroundings and, unlike nightmares, it is highly likely that they will not remember their behaviour in the morning.
Night frights present themselves as frequently recurring episodes of intense crying, screaming and fearful fits during sleep and it can often be difficult to wake a child whilst they are experiencing a night fright. Even upon waking, your child may be confused, disoriented and appear unresponsive. You may also find that your child’s heart rate and breathing rate significantly increase during a night fright and that they sweat profusely during each episode. Night frights typically occur 90 minutes after falling asleep and can last anywhere from one to two minutes to up to 30 minutes before your child may begin to relax and resume normal sleep.
Although it is often difficult to ascertain the primary cause of these night frights, child behaviour specialists and sleep consultants have surmised that they are often triggered in children as a direct result of tiredness, fever, anxiety, a genetic predisposition if other family members suffer from night frights, extreme excitement, sudden noises, certain types of medication, stressful life events or sleep deprivation.
These episodes can be scary or unsettling to watch but scientific research carried out by the NHS has demonstrated that almost 50% of children who experience night frights will grow out of them naturally by the time they are 8 years old. Moreover, the same reports have stated that night frights have not been known to cause any long-term adverse psychological effects to children.
How to Cope With Night Frights
If you witness your child experiencing a night fright it is important to know how to respond appropriately to these episodes. At Eden Private Staff, our team of sleep consultants recommend that firstly, you should remain calm and wait with your child until they begin to relax. Unless your child is in danger of falling out of bed or colliding with an object, you should avoid interacting with them or intervening whilst they are in this extreme state. All that you should do at this stage is clear away any toys or furniture with which your child may collide and speak softly, if needed, to reassure your child of your presence. Although it may be difficult to do nothing other than monitoring at this stage, it is worthwhile remembering night frights do not actually harm your child and that you could make your child even more agitated if you try to wake them whilst they are in this erratic, confused state.
As soon as your child has calmed down and the episode has passed, it is now safe to wake your child. If your child has a night fright and rapidly returns into deep sleep then they are at risk of suffering another episode so it is recommended that you fully wake them up, take them to the toilet and give them a glass of water before they go back to sleep.
Even though your child may not remember their night fright episodes when they wake up in the morning, it may be beneficial to discuss the concept of night frights with them. By doing so, you can ascertain whether your child is stressed or worried about anything that may be causing them to have night frights. By maintaining this direct channel of communication with your child your may be able to prevent them from having further night frights in the future.
The majority of children who experience night frights will grow out of them before adolescence. However, if your child’s night frights persists on a frequent basis, such as several times a night or on recurring nights, then it is advisable that you consult with your child’s healthcare provider who may be able to diagnose the root cause of your child’s night frights and prescribe suitable medical treatments.
Due to the fact that you should not wake your child whilst they are having a night fright, the best course of action should be to prevent the night frights from occurring in the first place. Fortunately, our team of Eden Private Staff sleep consultants can recommend numerous techniques that you can implement to prevent these episodes from occurring. For instance, if your child suffers frequent night frights at specific intervals each night then it may be worthwhile waking them up 15 minutes before the expected night fright each evening. If you do this for seven nights in a row you may be able to disrupt their sleep pattern and prevent these episodes from occurring in the first place. In fact, a series of clinical studies that commenced in 1988 have actually shown that this method can result in a 90% reduction in night frights amongst children.
Above all else, the best measure that you can take to prevent the onset of night frights is to establish a calming bedtime routine. Implement a regular time of night that your child goes to bed so that they will get enough restful sleep and avoid giving them caffeinated drinks close to bedtime which may make them erratic and more susceptible to night frights. You should also close all windows and doors and remove any devices, such as alarms, which may cause sudden or loud noises that may disrupt your child’s sleep patterns. By sticking to this consistent bedtime routine, your child can calmly drift off to sleep and wake up in the morning fully rested, recuperated and night fright free!
Helpful Products upon Which You Can Depend
As well as these aforementioned home remedies and Eden Private Staff recommended sleep consultancy techniques, there are various products which you can use in order to prevent your children from having night frights. For example, if your child has a favourite blanket or mattress then wrapping them up in this familiar, soft bedding can help calm them and prevent anxiety-induced night frights. Similarly, providing your child with soothing music and comforting toys as well as relaxing story books before they go to bed have been shown to reduce the stress levels of children who suffer from night frights.
Alternatively, there are numerous herbal remedies upon which you and your family can depend. St John’s Wort has been proven to elevate mood and induce more restful sleep patterns in children when administered via 150mg servings three times a day. However, before prescribing your child any herbal remedies it is advised that you consult with your child’s healthcare provider to ensure that you are administering a dose which is attentive to your child’s particular needs and allergen stipulations.
You can also invest in innovative bedding devices, such as the Lully, which emit gentle vibrations from underneath your child’s mattress to prevent night frights from occurring. Developed by researchers at Stanford University, this technologically proficient method is proven to stop 9 out of 10 night frights. This forward-thinking device monitors and logs a child’s specific sleep patterns and calculates the exact time at which night frights are expected to occur. Consequently, this device will generate a series of vibrations prior to your child transitioning into a night fright in order to successfully maintain their healthy sleep patterns.
Fundamentally, by utilising the products and the Eden Private Staff approved techniques that have been mentioned throughout this guide, you can successfully prevent your child from suffering from night frights; thereby securing a sound night’s sleep for your entire family!
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