Nightmares & Night-terrors. What to do?

Children spend more time dreaming than adults do, so they have more dreams than we do, both good and bad. What is the difference between a nightmare and a night-terror? and what should you do in each situation?

Nightmares

Nightmares are bad dreams that happen during rapid eye movement (REM) or dream sleep. He may also be afraid to fall back asleep, and he’ll probably remember that he had a bad dream. A baby or child who had a nightmare is likely to have a clear idea of what scared him, although he probably will not be able to his fright until he’s about 2 years old.

Night Terrors

Night terrors occur in at least 5% of young children and can start as early as 9 months. These mysterious disturbances happen during deep, non-dreaming sleep. When a child is having a night-terror will cry, whimper, flail, and even bolt out of bed. Although his eyes may be wide open, he’s not awake and isn’t aware of your presence.

The night terror can last anywhere  from a few minutes to half an hour or more. Once it is over, your child will return to a sound sleep and have no memory of the incident in the morning.

How to respond?

The best response to a nightmare and to prevent future nightmares is to help your child confront and overcome his fears of the dark, such as letting a nightlight or a special stuffed toy to sleep with.

The best responses to a nightmare are:

  • Be there and offer comfort.
  • Stay with your child until she feels relaxed and ready to sleep.
  • Stay calm and convey to your child that what’s happening is normal and that all is well.
  • Reassure your child that he’s safe and that it’s OK to go back to sleep.
  • If your child wakes with a nightmare, stay with her until she feels relaxed and ready to go to sleep.
  • The best responses to night terrors are:

    • a gentle pat, along with comforting words or “shhh” sounds,
    • make sure he doesn’t hurt himself. Don’t speak to him or try to soothe him,
    • don’t try to shake or startle him awake or physically restrain him — all of which could lead to more frantic behavior.

    If it’s a night terror, in 15 to 20 minutes, your child should calm down, curl up, and fall into a deep sleep again. If it’s a nightmare, he might need a little more time to calm down and go back to sleep.

    What to do to prevent them?

    To prevent nightmares, the best thing to do is to prevent things that scare your child during the day; and to help him comfront and overcome his fears.

    To prevent night-terrors, make sure that he is getting enough sleep, since children who go to bed overtired are more likely to experience these type of sleep disturbances.

    Advertisements

    Baby Sleep and Memory

    During the REM phase of sleep, the baby’s brain assimilates and stores all the information that babies receive during their wakeful and alert hours. Babies are in an almost constant state of motor skill learning and coordination. They have a lot of new material to consolidate and, therefore demand more of sleep. Hence, sleep appears to play a key role in human development, and interferences to their REM sleep could undermine their learning.

    A new study, published online in Nature Neuroscience, from researchers at Harvard Medical School and Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, argues that sleep deprivation also hampers the brain’s ability to make new memories.

    Baby Sleep and Growth

    Sleep is essential for baby’s development, health and growth. The human growth hormone, a protein hormone secreted by the pituitary gland responsible for the baby’s physical growth, is mostly secreted while the baby is in deep sleep. In fact, studies have proven that 80% of growth hormone is released during the deep sleep phase. Therefore severe and prolonged sleep dissorders or defficiency might directly impact your baby’s physical development and growth.

    It has also been studied that sleep (in particular, REM sleep) promotes brain growth. Babies are born with around 30% of their full brain size. During the first years of life, the brain grows enormously to its full adult size. Sleep plays an integral role in this growth.

    Is my child too old for sleep training?

    We often come accross parents of toddlers who wonder whether their children are already to old to be sleep-trained. The answer is ‘no’. You can always teach your children healthy sleep habits. Truth be told, the older the child, the more challenging the process is going to be; but it is certainly possible. Here are some things you need to take into consideration when sleep training an older toddler:

    • They need to sleep! If you have been following us, you know how important sleep is for children.
    • They learned from us. Be a role model in terms of healthy sleep habits. Children model our behavior, so make sure you are a good example in this area too.
    • They are smart. They’ll try everything under the sun to get your attention and get their way.

    What method should you follow? We do not believe cry-it-out is the best method for sleep training babies; although we acknowledge that it might work with some babies*. When it comes to toddlers, it doesn’t work! You need to create a plan that involves your child, that is adapted to your child’s personality; otherwise, it won’t work. These are some things to keep in mind when building your plan:

    • You are trying to break a habit, that you help creating; be patient!
    • Consistency is key
    • Avoid fights and stay calm
    • There’s no negotiation
    • Make it fun and rewarding
    • Make sure the room is childproof
    • Don’t do cry it out, it won’t work with
    • They understand, get them on board!
    • Get them excited about sleep, make feel ‘adult-like’, praise them, reward them every morning for the first weeks

    If you need additional help building your sleep training plan, contact us at contact@smoothparenting.com or call us at 646 450 6605

    Signs of Sleep Deficiency in Children

    Many parents wonder whether their childrena are getting enough sleep. The first thing to do when in doubt, is counting the amount of hours they are sleeping. Then refer to the general guidelines of how many hours children their age should sleep per day.

    The second thing would be to watch her for signs of sleep deprivation,such as:

    • Constant sleepiness throughout the day, almost every day
    • Fatigue. It looks like your child is dragging herself from one place to the next one
    • Inattentiveness and hyperactivity
    • Crankiness and moodiness, especially at the end of the day
    • Difficult awakenings. It is difficult to get your child out of bed and active in the morning
    • Difficult betimes. Your child is so cranky that she can’t fall asleep
    • Frequent waking during the night
    • Trouble focusing on tasks
    • Impaired memory and cognitive ability, the ability to think and process information
    • Decreased daytime alertness
    • Decreased academic performance
    • Low threshold to express negative emotion (irritability and easy frustration)
    • Difficulty modulating impulses and emotions

    If your child exhibits many of this symptoms, you should adjust her schedule so she gets more daytime sleep (naps), and night-time sleep.

    Effects of Lack of Sleep in Children

    The less sleep children get, the more likely they are to perform poorly in school, to become depressed, and to have a poor sense of self-worth, according to a study of 2,259 Illinois middle school students published in the January-February 2004 issue of Child Development.

    As these kids progressed through the middle school years, if the amount of sleep dropped (as it often does), there also tended to be a further drop in grades, and self-esteem and an increase in depression. As a general rule of thumb, most middle schoolers thrive best on an average of about 9 hours of sleep. Those in high school may do well with 8 hours; those in elementary school often do better with at least 10. Younger children need even more.

    Sometimes lack of sleep is seen as a badge of honor. But at any age, getting optimum sleep improves health. It also helps people feel better about themselves and about the world. And it is a simple way to improve performance at almost anything people care about.

    Recent research has verified that chronic poor sleep results in daytime tiredness, difficulties with focused attention, low threshold to express negative emotion (irritability and easy frustration), and difficulty modulating impulses and emotions (Seminars in Pediatric Neurology, Mar 1996). These are the same symptoms that can earn kids the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, ADD).

    Research in sleep laboratories has shown that some kids are mislabeled with ADD when the real problem is chronic, partial sleep deprivation. When children are identified with symptoms of ADD, often no one thinks to explore the child’s sleeping habits, and whether they might be responsible for the symptoms.

    When parents of children with ADD are interviewed, they usually identify their kids as poor or restless sleepers (Journal of Pediatric Psychology, Jun 1997), and wake up more often at night than their peers (Pediatrics, Dec 1987).

    As parents, we all know what it feels like to be grumpy, contrary, and “not at our best” from lack of sleep. If our kids often feel this way, we owe it to them to find solutions to this problem.

    “Sleep is a vital asset for a child’s health and overall development, learning and safety,” says Richard L. Gelula, National Sleep Foundation’s chief executive officer. “Many children are not sleeping enough and many experience sleep problems. What is troublesome is that the problems start in infancy.”

    Healthy sleep habits from an early age are essential to Happiness, Self-Esteem, and Success.

    Sources:
    National Sleep Foundation
    http://www.drgreene.com/article/sleep-deprivation-and-adhd#ixzz0n3e6UJK3
    http://www.drgreene.com/blog/2004/02/17/getting-enough-sleep?tid=209#ixzz0n3dGfIB9