01/27/2012 03:10 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2012

5 Tips For Battling Night Screaming

Night screaming is a disorder more common in children between the ages of 3 and 10 than in adults. We spoke with Aparajitha Verma, M.D., medical director for the Methodist Hospital Sleep Disorders Center in Houston, Texas, for one approach to the medical problems you or your loved one may suffer from when trying to sleep.

If you think you or your child might suffer from night screaming, use this as a reference point before getting personalized medical advice from your doctor or other accredited sleep expert. --Ed Condran

According to Dr. Verma, "Night screaming is a night terror or a nightmare that can cause a child to wake up and scream. It can happen either during rapid eye movement or non-rapid eye movement [sleep]." Not only does night screaming disturb the sleep of the child, who "wakes up with such a scream and is often inconsolable," but it can also wake a whole family. Dr. Verma adds that due to the night terror, the child may have difficulty falling back to sleep and may be tired the next day.

See A Physician

Dr. Verma recommends that patients seek help from a sleep specialist if the night screams occur often. "See if the night terror happens on more than one occasion," she suggests. "If this happens every six months, it just may be the occasional nightmare, but if the screams are chronic, see a doctor."

Avoid Caffeine

Caffeine and sleep don't go together. The former will not help a child have a restful night. "Don't use caffeinated beverages, particularly around bedtime," Dr. Verma advises. "If your child consumes caffeine five to seven hours before bedtime, the caffeine lingers in his system longer than seven hours. That makes him hyper, and caffeine just won't help when it comes to night terrors.

Keep A Rigid Bedtime Schedule

Consistency in general is important for children, and having a set bedtime is especially important for children suffering from night screaming. Dr. Verma believes a child with night screams should stay on a strict schedule. "Go to bed the same time every night and wake up the same time as well, even on the weekend," she says. "Be rigid about it. A good sleeping pattern helps."

Limit Alcohol Consumption

Adults should think twice before they imbibe if they want a peaceful and event-free night, says Dr. Verma. "Alcohol reduces the time [it takes] to fall asleep. However, it also induces arousal. You may wake up to night terrors. You also often don't feel refreshed."

Check For Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea, which prevents a restful evening, can contribute to night terrors. Dr. Verma suggests that any child who may be suffering from sleep apnea, which is characterized by breathing abnormalities, should seek medical attention. "Having sleep apnea can be very disruptive," she explains. "If your child snores and it disrupts their sleep, see a doctor immediately."

Aparajitha Verma, M.D., received degrees from Sri Ram Chandra Medical College and Research Institute in Chennai, India, and is the medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Methodist Neurological Institute in Houston, Texas.

Have you ever experienced night screaming?