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Night Terrors and Confusional Arousals

Is your child waking in the night and appears alert and awake, but they are not responding to you and you feel like they are looking right through you?

What is a night terror or confusional arousal?

When a confusional arousal or night terror occurs, you may seem to be awake even though you have a foggy state of mind. Episodes of confusional arousals in children may seem strange and frightening to parents. The child can have a confused look on his or her face and “stare right through” you. Children may become more agitated when you try to comfort them. Most episodes last from five to fifteen minutes. But they can last as long as thirty to forty minutes.

Overall, confusional arousals are fairly harmless in children. Arousals are less common after the age of five years. Children that have night terrors can cry uncontrollably, sweat, shake, or breathe fast. The can also thrash around, scream, kick, or stare.

How can you help prevent them?

One of the major causes of confusional arousal is overtiredness. Avoid your child becoming overtired by ensuring they have good naps as needed or have early nights if they have been very active. Try to ensure that they do not miss their ideal sleep window at night.

Another cause can be stress. Try to work out what may be causing your child stress and help support them to find a way to ease any anxiety that they may have.

When does it occur?

Confusional arousals tend to occur as you wake from slow-wave sleep. This sleep stage is most common in the first third of the night, which is roughly within the first 2 hours of sleep.

What should you do?

There is not a lot you can do. It is best not to interrupt them and let them follow through. I would recommend that you ensure that they are safe and that there is nothing around that could be a danger to them. You can hug them if you feel they need comfort, however it is likely that they will push you away as they are in a state of confusion and they don’t know that it is you.

Recent studies have suggested that turning a bright light on during a night terror can help bring it to an end without disrupting a child.

If you are concerned about your child’s sleep habits, talk with your child’s doctor. Keep a sleep diary to help track your child’s problem.


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