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Is your family’s sleep disrupted by your child’s sleeping patterns? There are 3 different sleep problems that children can potentially experience – nightmares, night terrors and sleepwalking. If this is happening in your house – don’t worry, with some awareness and tips they are all manageable.
The first problem is Nightmares. Nightmares occur during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is when you do the most dreaming. During the dream your mind is active, but you are unable to physically react to your dream. Nightmares tend to happen in the latter half of sleep. REM is a lighter stage of sleep (relative to brain activity) so your child awakens easily from a nightmare and are very receptive to being consoled by you.
The second problem is Night Terrors, which occur during non-REM sleep. In this stage, your mind normally has very slow brain waves, during which our memories form.
The bulk of our slow wave sleep happens during the first half of the night. Night terrors occur within 2-3 hours after your child has gone to sleep. What happens is your child is abruptly jolted from deep sleep. This leads to a lot of confusion and disorientation.
When a child awakes from night terrors, DO NOT try to wake or hold your child down. Just keep an eye on them and let the episode pass. If your child thrashes around and you try and hold them down, you could get injured. It is crucial to keep the surrounding environment safe so nobody gets injured. The good news is night terrors are harmless and your child will fall back to sleep within 3-20 minutes, not remembering the event in the morning.
The frequency of night terrors do vary, from once a week to once a month, depending on age. If it happens almost every night, you should see the pediatrician.
The last sleep problem is Sleepwalking. It occurs during deep sleep, usually 1-2 hours after falling asleep. A child may sit up in bed, but is not terrified or in fear. Your child is still not entirely aware of their surroundings and usually won’t respond to you or have any recollection.
Sleepwalking is very common. Both Sleep Terrors and Sleepwalking can be hereditary. Sleepwalking can be triggered by insufficient sleep, but it’s also associated with other medical problems.
Children who sleepwalk often grow out of it, but it can continue into adulthood. If it happens frequently within a week, you should see your child’s doctor.
Again, you should remove any hazards that could hurt your child, like putting a barrier in front of the stairs.
One behavioral intervention is performing scheduled awakenings. For example, if your child usually sleepwalks around 10pm, wake them up at 9:45pm. Keep them awake for about 5 minutes then help them back to bed. This interrupts the sleep cycle and amazingly resets it, tricking the brain past the sleepwalking period.
In brief, remember to always think of you and your family’s safety when it comes to any of these occurrences by removing anything harmful. Nightmares are the consolable dreams, Night Terrors you have to ride out with a watchful eye, and Sleep Walkers you can cut off at the pass with intentional interruptions. If any of these occurrences become unmanageable, please see your medical professional for further direction.
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