Dubai: Though sleep terrors and sleep walking are associated with school-going children they are not the only ones affected by it. These sleep disorders are collectively termed ‘parasomnia’ and refer to all the unusual behaviour that people may get into while they are still asleep. Both are partial wake-ups from deep sleep. Many times they exist in isolation while in other cases they could coexist with neurological, psychological and medical disorders.
Sleep walking occurs in a partial state of wakefulness from deep sleep. With children, it probably occurs more frequently because the body and brain’s ability to regulate the sleep-wake cycle is still immature. It can continue to occur into adulthood, usually triggered by stress, sleep deprivation or underlying sleep disorders such as snoring, sleep apnea or periodic limb movement disorder.
Night terrors don’t cause any long-term psychological harm and occur amongst kids during deep sleep. Children experiencing sleep terrors often sit up screaming and appear very agitated, usually with their eyes open. Children who experience frequent night terrors during young childhood are more likely to sleep walk after five years of age. Don’t be too quick to label random episodes of night terrors as a sleep disorder until it repeats frequently. Sleep walking and sleep terrors are not generally harmful but in some circumstances require intervention. Precautions should be taken to ensure they don’t result in an accident. It is important to secure the environment as much as possible, keep windows and exit doors locked and use stair gates for children. It is best to slowly guide sleep walkers back to their bed.
Sleep terrors look far more distressing to the observer than they are. A child who experiences night terrors may scream, shout and thrash around in extreme panic, and may even jump out of bed. Their eyes will be open but they’re not fully awake. A child also might cry, but the individual will not usually have any recollection of the event the following morning. Talking or touching the person experiencing a sleep terror should be avoided as it can confuse the sufferer and prolong the episode. Instead, stay calm and wait until the episode passes.
(The author is with The London Sleep Centre, Dubai)