Article by by Dee Jones, President of Light 2 World, Inc
Early in our son’s life, he would literally cry and scream in his sleep. Most nights about an hour or less after putting him to bed, we would experience this loud melodic outcry or screams. Off to the doctor we would go, knowing there was something terribly wrong. Even though our son suffered with reflux disease and other issues, we were facing another phenomena called “Night Terrors or Sleep Terrors. This sleep disorder usually occurs around 18 months of age or older in most cases.
A small percentage of infants under 12 months will experience Night Terrors. We were blessed with such a child who endured Night Terrors between 3-6 months old. It was horrible for him and us. We discovered that infants and children who suffer from Night Terrors are still sleeping! He would toss and turn after when he began to sleep. Some children even sleepwalk. As he grew older another diagnosis was given. Childhood insomnia. We quickly learned about the “family bed” as our little one spent many nights with us.
Distinguishing between Night Terrors and Nightmares was helpful information for us. Night Terrors occurs early in the sleep cycle and the infant or child is still asleep, which means sleepwalking may occur. Causes range from heredity, trauma or exposure to trauma or fearful events, and lack of sleep. Nightmares occur later in the sleep cycle and the child or adult may remember what occurred and may not go back to sleep easily. There is hope.
In my 2017 study about feeling fearful, participants was asked to describe what feeling fearful was like. I noted that fear was expressed emotionally, physically, spiritually, and psychologically. Unfortunately, infants and young children may find it hard to describe the fear they feel. Infants and children express fear differently as they develop, thus fear should be addressed appropriately by age or by cognitive development. When an infant or child is sleep deprived, it can affect their emotions, learning ability, energy level, and immune system.
So, what can be done? First, know what you are dealing with. It is best to consult your healthcare provider if you are unsure. An early diagnosis helped us set up a routine to alleviate some of the symptoms he was experiencing. Creating a calm routine at bedtime, and melatonin was prescribed in low doses by our provider. Elevating the crib helped with the reflux at naptime and at night; don’t forgot to apply lots of prayer.
Night Terror prevention is facilitated by using a calm voice and soothing music. Cuddle the infant or rock him/her gently. Do not wake up the child, guide him/her back to sleep or back to bed. Set a regular bedtime and a peaceful environment. If Night Terrors last longer than 30 minutes per episode, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Nightmares are scary dreams that usually occur in the older child and adults. Nightmares keep them from going back to sleep easily. The child is usually awake after the nightmare and may remember the dream. If this occurs, discuss the dream with the child, using language at their developmental level. Protect your child from frightening movies, television shows, or scary stories at bedtime.
Provide a security blanket or toy at night and a nightlight nearby with soothing music can help as well. If your child sleeps with you for a little while, its ok. Return him/her back to their room, rub their back as you pray to assist them back to sleep. There is hope for the fearful. My little one is 6 now and still has a few tummy issues, suffers insomnia, but has very few Nightmares and no more Night Terrors.
For more information regarding Night Terrors and Nightmares, visit the website for Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Light 2 World Inc.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine (2023). Night Terrors and Nightmares, www.hopkinsmedicine.org
- D. A. Jones (2017). The Meaning of Feeling Fearful for New Nurses in Community/Public Health, Walden University, Dissertation 2017. www.scholarworks.waldnu.edu
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