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13 Tips for handling night terrors in kids

Melissa Chapman and her brood of three live in the urban concrete jungle of NYC. She writes Kids in the City Kids in the City a weekly column and blog for the Staten Island Advance, contributes to SheKnows, Time Out NY Kids Time Out N...

Helping kids sleep when they have night terrors

Do you know the difference between a night terror and a nighmare? How do you stop your child from having night terrors? Usually affecting small children, experts and parents share the cause of night terrors and tips to ease you and your child's mind during these often scary nocturnal events.

5. Do adopt a comforting bedtime ritual that includes bath, snuggling & reading, and follow it each night, making sure that your child has an hour of "wind-down" that is soothing. No music, TV, loudness, wildness, or anything particularly arousing, and no food, since digestion seems to be the source of night terrors for some people. Get more tips here on developing a bedtime ritual for kids.

6. Be aware that fevers can trigger night terrors in those who are prone.

7. Do make sure that your child is not being accidentally awakened. There is some evidence that night terrors result from being awakened during Stage 4 sleep (if there is already a predisposition). If traffic or TV or telephone noises intrude on his sleep, they could be awakening him. You might invest in a white noise machine as a precaution.

8. Don't try to force your child to wake up from a night terror. That leaves a person extremely disoriented, sometimes to the point of temporary amnesia.

9. Keep your little one sleeping in a crib until she outgrows her night terrors, if possible. If she has already graduated from a crib, be aware that she could easily leap out of bed during a night terror. Move anything she could trip on out of the way, be sure windows are closed and have a window guard, and use a baby gate to be sure she doesn't run out of her room and fall down the stairs.

10. Don't let your child get over-heated while he sleeps. Particularly, avoid footed pajamas. Many parents report that their child is more likely to have night terrors when overheated.

11. If your child has allergies or a cold and her tonsils are inflamed, it can make it harder to breathe, which may trigger night terrors. Ask your doctor about using Benadryl until she's back to normal. Some researchers report that removing the tonsils and adenoids can immediately cure night terrors in cases where they were regularly swollen and the child was having a hard time breathing at night.

12. Many parents have reported a complete cure with the radical approach of putting the child's feet into cool (not cold) water during an episode, although some parents report that the night terrors later returned.

13. I hate to wake kids for any reason, but there is evidence that you can help your child reset his arousal cycle by waking him gently fifteen minutes before the night terrors usually occur. If you can see a pattern, and the night terrors are frequent, it might be worth it. If you do this for 3 to 5 days, it will hopefully interrupt the arousal cycle and prevent the night terrors from recurring.

"My advice to other parents is to try to stay calm and to reassure your child through a soft voice that it's ok, mommy is here. Do not try to wake your child or to jar him in any way," says Ms. Nathan. "This will just exaggerate the episode. And, ride it out. Also, don't recount the happening the next day with your child; very often they will not even be aware of what has occurred. I have been told by my pediatrician that he will grow out of it. He's nine and I'm still waiting!"

For more info on kids and sleep

Nightmares versus night terrors
Calming foods for kids

The baby's coming! How to make sure your older kids are sleeping through the night

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