As we discussed in parts 1 and 2 of our series, infant sleep can be somewhat volatile. Add in vibrant dreams, nightmares or night terrors and wakefulness may be the new sleepiness in your household. We’ve already dissected dreams and nightmares so today we’re taking a look at night terrors.
Unlike nightmares, night terrors (sometimes called sleep terrors or confusional arousal) occur during a sleep transition. During sleep transitions your baby is fighting between staying asleep and being awake. The goal is to “train” your baby to stay asleep, however sometimes wakefulness wins. This is when night terrors of “confusional events” (as named by Dr. Ferber) happen.
Night terrors and confusional events typically occur during the first two hours of sleep when babies transition from their deepest sleep of the night into a new sleep cycle. Babies are not truly awake during these events although they may be moving about and even have their eyes open. Mild confusional events last only a few seconds and are marked by small sounds and movements before a baby returns to sleep.
However it’s when babies wake suddenly and cry out in panic that a true night terror is occurring. Night terrors can cause your baby to be hot, elevate her heart rate and she may cry out for a long time. Because your baby is not fully awake, you may not be able to comfort her. But this also means she probably won’t remember it at all and she’s not going to be traumatized by the fear.
Night terrors usually won’t last more than an hour, and are typically over in less than 10 minutes. When they hear their babies cry during confusional events and night terrors, most parents run to pick up their babies out of concern. However, it is best to give your baby a few minutes to settle herself. This will help teach your baby to self-soothe and to let sleepiness reign over wakefulness during the transition between sleep cycles. If you are worried about her safety from flailing about, go in a check on her but don’t wake her up.
Night terrors usually occur in older children, starting around age 10. But they can occur in babies as well. You may notice night terrors start just before age one. If they persist, consult your pediatrician to see if you should try to change your baby’s sleep pattern for more peaceful sleep.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our series on infant sleep. Wishing you and your baby sweet dreams!