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Night Terrors, Nightmares, and trouble sleeping at night. What to do and how Play Therapy can help.

What are night terrors?

If you have ever had the experience of your child suddenly getting exceedingly anxious while in deep sleep, then you may suspect that they're having a nightmare. You might try to console them and find that it doesn't really work. If this sounds familiar, your child could actually be having a night terror instead. Children who are experiencing night terrors may appear to be in distress. They can be sweating, breathing quickly, and experiencing rapid heartbeat.

Your child may also appear to be awake if, for instance, their eyes may be open or they are wailing. Some children even stand up or leave their beds to play. Having a night terror and a nightmare are largely different experiences. While having a night terror, your child is actually asleep, and they won't respond to your attempts at consoling them. They can appear bewildered or disoriented, and their words might not make sense.

Night terrors may begin with a cry or scream and occur unexpectedly. They often end after 10 to 15 minutes, although they might go on longer. They rarely occur more than once per night. Sometimes they persist on a regular basis for weeks or months before disappearing.

Even though your child may talk and move during a night terror, they are still actually asleep. Rarely do children recall having a night terror. Nightmares on the other hand are unpleasant dreams that your child can recall when they wake up.

Night terrors are common in children between the ages of 3 and 8, while nightmares can affect both children and adults.

What causes night terrors in children?

There are a few causes of night terrors in children. They are

  • Lack of sufficient, high-quality sleep is a common contributor to night terrors.

  • Additionally, children who are ill are more likely to experience night terrors. The probability of night terrors might be increased by fever and some drugs.

  • Terrors at night can run in families. If someone in your family has experienced night terrors, your child is more likely to as well.

  • Emotional tension, stress, anxiety or experiencing conflict at school or home

  • Experiencing trauma - Trauma is an emotional response to an event an individual perceives as a terrible event like an accident, bullying, physical or sexual abuse, sudden death of a parent, trusted caregiver or family member, witnessing violence, being hospitalised or even changing schools to name a few. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, stomachache and incontinence.

What to do if your child has night terrors?

Dos and don'ts when your child is having a night terror.

  • Don't wake your child during a night terror. Waking your child during a night terror will leave them confused and frightened. Allow it to pass and your child won't remember it.

  • Do wait for your child to settle down from their night terror, and guide them back to bed if they have left it. Your child should settle back to sleep. If your child gets up and moves around during their night terrors, make sure your child’s bedroom and any other areas of the house they can access are safe.

  • If you don't already have one, create a regular bedtime routine that consists of a bath, changing into Pyjamas, and a short story in bed. This can help your child feel ready for sleep, over time consistently engaging in the routine will allow your child to have a more restful sleep.

How Play Therapy helps children experiencing night terrors, nightmares, and trouble sleeping.

Speak to your pediatrician about an ear, nose, and throat examination if your child is snoring and experiencing night terrors at the same time.

As an adult, when you face a stressfull period in your life, often the first thing that gets affected is your sleep. When your sleep issues are not managed well, you may begin to notice that you perfom poorly at work, fail to excersice, struggle in your relationships etc. So why would this be any different for children?

If you child is facing issues, whatever they may be. You might be noticing concerning behaviors at home or at school. Your family may have just gone through a major life change such as moving, new siblings, divorce, or a death in the family. Or you might just have the deep gut feeling that we get as parents that tells us that our child is struggling – and more support is needed.

Treatment for children often involves talking through the problem in order to work out the best way to tackle it, however, they don't always work for all children. Play Therapy is often offered to children in these situations, "play" is a less intimidating form of therapy and allows children to revel and work through their emotions such in a safe, controlled and judgement free space.

Evidence suggests that Play Therapy helps to reduce levels of anxiety for children with sleep issues. Children who participated in Play Therapy sessions were better able to express their underlying feelings and developed closer relationships with their caregivers. This improved their overall well being and daily quality of life. It also helped improve their ability to communicate and improve sleep quality by allowing the body and mind to relax and heal where possible.

Through play therapy, your child's nervous system is regulated. Reducing your child’s stress levels and concerning behaviors, and increase their self-expression, self-regulation, and confidence.

If you would like to speak to a qualified Play therapist to learn how your child could benefit from play therapy, click here to get in touch today or want to know if Play Therapy could be right for your child take our quiz!

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