Nightmares vs. Night Terrors
Updated: Nov 20, 2022
Do you ever wonder about nightmares vs. night terrors?
Let’s break it down because they are very different and how we respond depends on what your child is experiencing: nightmare vs. night terror.
Night mares are common in children ages 3-6 years old and are developmentally appropriate as their imagination is increasing quickly!
According to WebMd, 50% of kids in this age group have nightmares and often need a parent to help comfort them.
Key point about nightmares:
Kids will be able to tell you some details about the nightmare and they are clearly awake when they show up at your bedside or call out for you.
Night terrors are episodes of panic and are not remembered. More on that in a bit.
Things that increase nightmares:
Not enough sleep
Being chronically overtired
Irregular sleep routines
Stress & anxiety
Watching shows/movies/videos with stressful, scary or scenes with peril (where someone is in danger)
A significant change in the family composition
A move to a new school/home/city
As much as nightmares are disturbing for everyone, they are part of your child’s development.
Let’s review night terrors!
Night terrors tend to run in the family, and are identified by episodes of crying, screaming, thrashing AND your child is clearly not awake.
Meaning, that if you find your child in this state, and you go to them, but they aren’t responding to your voice or your questions, they are most likely having a night terror.
Night mare: your child wakes up from the dream they had and can tell you what happened and will be comforted by you.
Night terror: child isn’t awake, though eyes may be open and they will often talk, but not respond to your voice/questions/comfort.
Night terrors are often seen in children 3-12 years of age.
Common length of a night terror is a few minutes, but up to 30 minutes.
Triggers for night terrors:
Too much caffeine (think chocolate)
Sleeping in an unfamiliar place
What can you do to reduce night terrors:
Prioritize your child’s sleep
Reduce screen time, especially anything with scary images, peril or violence. Especially in the hour before bedtime.
Is your child experiencing an increase in stress? Can anything be done to help reduce their stress?
Create a calming bedtime routine that can include Epsom salt baths, essential oils or pressure massages.
What to do if your child has a night terror:
Don’t try to wake them up during an episode.
Do keep them safe, create a barrier between them and any furniture or walls.
If you’re seeing a pattern for night terrors, and you’ve been addressing the list above, you can do the following strategy.
Typically, a night terror will happen 90 minutes after your child falls asleep.
If there’s a specific pattern, then go with that.
Wake your child 15 minutes prior to the expected night terror, take them to the washroom, and then stay with them for a few minutes then help them settle to bed.
Do this for a week to see if it improves your child’s night terror episodes.
**As always, not medical advice. If your child is having significant sleep disturbances, seizures, or sleep apnea, please consult your doctor.**
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Nightmares & night terrors related blogs: What toddler parents want to know, toddler consequences, when bedtime isn’t going well