Night terrors can be terrible for children and their parents, but the good news for parents is that options do exist to stop night terrors! However, before these are explored, parents must decide whether attempts should be made to improve their child’s night terrors. Up to 1 in 5 children will have at least 1 night terror growing up, and for some of these kids, the night terrors will go away as quick as they came.
For other children, though, they can continue for years or even persist into adulthood. So how do parents decide if the night terrors need to be addressed? There is no absolute answer, but it should relate to how troubling the night terrors are to the family.
Some parents are very concerned about their children having night terrors even if they only occur one every two months, while others are concerned only if they happen every night. It’s up to the parents, but if the night terrors become bothersome, parents should seek out solutions.
Causes of Night Terrors
To understand the solutions for night terrors, it is first important to understand the causes of night terrors. The main cause is an interrupted, unhealthy deep sleep that occurs in children prone to getting night terrors. The cause of this is unknown, but overnight sleep studies performed in children with night terrors clearly show this pattern.
In addition to the underlying cause, though, there are certain factors that exacerbate night terrors, or make them worse. These factors are varied, but in general they are related to things that decrease sleep quantity or quality. For example, sleep deprivation, altered sleep schedules, and travel all seem to make night terrors worse.
Other factors that can make night terrors worse are severe snoring or sleep apnea (because the snoring events cause interrupted sleep) as well as bedwetting (possibly because of the subconscious sensation of a full bladder interrupts sleep).
How to Stop Night Terrors
When attempting to solve night terrors, there are many things that can be done to decrease the exacerbating factors that can lead to night terrors. These include ensuring your child gets adequate sleep and ensuring your child stays on a consistent sleep schedule. Also, treating sleep apnea or addressing bedwetting can help decrease the severity of night terrors.
However, none of these solutions get at the underlying cause of night terrors — unhealthy and interrupted deep sleep that leads up to the night terror. For this, scheduled awakenings have been proposed prior to night terrors to train children to get out of the unhealthy sleep. In clinical studies, this has led to a 90% reduction in night terrors.
However, many parents are not comfortable waking their child each night. The Lully Sleep Guardian* is an excellent option that gets children out of the unhealthy deep sleep that causes night terrors by using vibrations from an under-the-mattress pod. However, it does this without actually causing a full awakening from sleep.
Parents may suggest many other solutions, such as placing a bar of soap in a child’s bed each night or removing Red dye from a child’s diet. However, these are not backed by clinical studies and therefore we don’t know if they are better than letting children grow out of the night terrors on their own.
*Disclosure: Lully Sleep Guardian was co-founded by the author of this post.