Confusional Arousals and Night Terrors

Recently the most terrifying thing happened with my daughter… 

She had been asleep for a couple of hours when she started screaming…It was the most blood curling and frightening thing I have ever heard. Especially as it was the last thing I was expecting to hear as I was happily sitting on the sofa watching Netxflix!

I instinctively ran as fast as I could to her room, expecting something horrendous to have happened. There she was screaming and thrashing around in her bed like she had been possessed– all I wanted to do was comfort her and fix the situation. But my presence only seemed to distress her further. The mother in me was terrified. But the sleep consultant in me knew exactly what I was dealing with.  A ‘confusional arousal.’ 

This is something that many parents have witnessed and will most likely never forget. So I wanted to explain a little more about confusional arousals and night terrors, what happens and how to deal with them. 

To start lets break them down as they are slightly different. 

Confusional Arousals

Confusional arousals happen in the first 2-4 hours of sleep. Your child may thrash about and appear distressed. If you approach them and try to comfort them they might not recognise you. Parents often describe their child as looking through them or like a zombie. This is because they are not properly awake and not properly asleep, they’re somewhere in-between. Its like they are stuck in a limbo state in-between. Throughout the episode they will stay in their bed. 

Night Terrors

Night terrors happen in the first half of the night when your child wakes up abruptly from a deep sleep. They will appear distressed, thrash about, and may be inconsolable. They are most likely to jump out of bed or move around.  They are also unlikely to recognise you if you try to comfort them.

Both these parasomnias are distressing for a parent to watch. But be assured your child won’t remember the episode in the morning. 

So how do you deal with them?

The best thing to do is to observe these events from a distance ensuring your child is safe. Although it feels counter intuitive try not to intervene and comfort your child as you may become part of the terror itself and agitate your child even further. 

What causes these rude awakenings ?

Confusional Arousals  

Confusional Arousals are caused by overtiredness. So addressing where overtiredness is creeping into your child’s day and night is your first step to resolving these incidents.

  • Are they getting enough sleep in the day? 
  • Are the naps spaced correctly with the right wakeful windows to make sure they are not getting overtired in-between?
  • Are some late bedtimes creeping in?
  • Are they starting the day to early?

Night Terrors

Night terrors are also caused by overtiredness. But they can also be caused by other things like any medication that induces a deep sleep or if your child is woken up suddenly by something like anxiety, a full bladder or a loud noise.

If your child regularly has a night terror its worth having a chat to them to find out if anything is worrying them and triggering the episodes.

They are also more common in children with family history of night terrors or sleep walking behaviour. 

There are also occasionally medical reasons that could be waking your child from a deep sleep and inducing a night terror like enlarged tonsils which can cause breathing problems. If you are concerned, then definitely talk to your GP.

Although these episodes are a parent’s worst nightmare, your child will be none-the-wiser and won’t remember a thing. Don’t worry! They do eventually grow out of them and in the meantime by identifying the cause you will be able to put practical steps in place to resolve them.

Wishing you all a peaceful night. X

Blog by Leigh Swanborough Certified Sleep Nanny Consultant.

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