Night Terrors vs. Dreams

All human beings experience dreams. There are pleasant dreams, which we experience, there are nightmares, which are unpleasant dreams, and at its most extreme, there’s what are called night terrors.

What are the symptoms?

So night terrors are actually an experience that children have. The child is often asleep and in their intensity of that night terror, they’ll scream, they’ll yell out, they’ll move their arms and legs around as if they’re trying to escape. And for the adult, or the parent, it’s often more terrifying than the child, because often the child, or sometimes the child, won’t even recall the experience.

What can be done?

So what do you do about night terrors? The first is, it’s a condition, it’s a normal part, in many sense, of childhood. It will disappear over the passage of time, as a general rule, kids will grow out of it. And if it is distressing for the parent, or distressing for the child, there are certain things that one can do to try and minimise it, and particularly routine. Child going to bed at the same time each night, and if there are triggers that may be identified that seem to cause disturbance of dreaming that leads to night terrors, then avoid them. And those triggers will become obvious over time. Maybe it’s disruption to their routine, maybe it’s eating certain types of food at a certain time, maybe it’s having a meal at a different time. Anything that interrupts with the normal circadian rhythm, that may contribute, should be avoided.

For further information

https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Night_Terrors_night_time_wakings/

Dr Matthew Cullen, Psychiatrist, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney

Last Reviewed: 19/08/2020

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