Ever had your child wake suddenly in the night, absolutely hysterical and there was nothing you could do to calm them? Seeming like they were stuck in a bad dream. Your usual settling techniques don’t work until they finally just seem to snap out of it and fall back to sleep.
This can be what is referred to as a night terror. And while it can be confronting for us as parents to witness, you’ll be relieved to know that a child is not experiencing, or 'stuck', in a bad dream. A sleep terror is just a physiological response and in the morning a child will not recall anything happening. These episodes only occur during non-REM sleep, which is not a dreaming phase of sleep.
A night terror usually happens in the first half of the night, before midnight when a child is in their deepest sleep. During an episode a child will be very disoriented and won’t be aware of their surroundings, which is why your usual methods of trying to help them to sleep won’t typically work as technically they are still sleeping! An episode usually lasts 10-15 minutes and will resolve on its own. Once finished a child will fall back into a deep sleep quite quickly.
It's usually related to not getting enough quality sleep. Whether through sickness, skipped naps, or too many late bedtimes. It can be more common in children with Sleep Apnea, so if your child snores talk to your GP about having an ear, nose and throat assessment.
Keep in mind night terrors are actually quite rare, and will only happen once a night (and not typically every night), so if your baby is waking often in the night crying it’s unlikely to be a night terror and is likely another sleep issue.
Is your baby waking crying in the night and staying awake for over an hour? they might be experiencing what's called a Split Night. Read more about Split Nights here.