Nightmares And Night Terrors In Toddlers, Part 1

Baby Sleep

Nightmares And Night Terrors In Toddlers, Part 1

The term “night terror” is often used to describe a variety of different nighttime behavior in babies and children. Most parents have comforted their child from the odd nightmare. But actual night terrors differ radically from nightmares.

A real night terror is a sleep disruption with a far more dramatic presentation than nightmares. Even though this behavior can be alarming to parents, it is usually not a cause for concern.

Night terrors in toddlers and older children happen during non-REM sleep, the deepest sleep of the night, which is usually 2-3 hours after a child has fallen asleep. This is often when a child is transitioning from deep sleep to lighter, REM sleep. Even though this transition is usually a smooth one, a child can become frightened and alarmed, resulting in a night terror.

A child’s behavior during a night terror can be scary for parents to watch. The child often shouts, screams, thrashes around, and his heartrate and breathing might go up. Thankfully, children won’t remember these night terrors because they occur during deep sleep- so the experience is only scary for you!

Night terrors are experienced in 3-6% of children- making them relatively rare. They usually happen between the ages of 3 and 12 years old, but have been reported in children younger.

What causes night terrors and how can they be prevented?

Night terrors are caused by over-arousal of the central nervous system. The following circumstances are well-known triggers of night terrors in children. Avoiding them can help you avoid night terrors and will show you how to stop nightmares as well.

  • Overtiredness
  • Fever
  • New medications
  • Stressful life changes

Some children are prone to night terrors if they have a family member who experienced them or sleep walking.

If your child is experiencing a night terror, do not try waking him up. Stay with your child in his room to ensure he doesn’t hurt himself. A night terror usually only lasts for a few minutes, and the child will usually settle down and go back to sleep.

The biggest piece of advice I can give you to prevent night terrors is to ensure your child has a consistent, relaxing bedtime routine and EARLY BEDTIME!

If your child’s night terrors happen repeatedly, be sure to speak to your pediatrician about a possible referral for a sleep study.


Quick Tips:

  • Do not try to wake up your child during a night terror- wait it out patiently

  • Your child won’t remember the night terror since it occurs during deep sleep- this should reduce your worry!

  • Make sure your child has a relaxing bedtime routine and consistent EARLY bedtime.

How many hours of sleep do kids need?

What are some of our favourite toddler sleep training techniques?

Does baby sleeping music help?

The general information provided on the Website is for informational purposes and is not medical advice.

Do NOT use this Website for medical emergencies.

If you have a medical emergency, call a physician or qualified healthcare provider, or CALL 911 immediately. Under no circumstances should you attempt self-treatment based on anything you have seen or read on this Website. Always seek the advice of your physician or other licensed and qualified health provider in your jurisdiction concerning any questions you may have regarding any information obtained from this Website and any medical condition you believe may be relevant to you or to someone else. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Website.

Eva Klein, JD

About Eva Klein, JD

Eva is a certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant through the International Maternity and Parenting Institute and is the founder of My Sleeping Baby. Eva’s main goal is to assist her clients establish healthy sleep habits for their children. After experiencing the debilitating effects of chronic sleep deprivation from her two children, Eva was inspired to help families overcome their sleep challenges. Eva truly empathizes with her clients’ sleep troubles and personally invests herself in their sleep journey. Eva is a proud wife and mother of two beautiful girls (who are now both great sleepers) and lives with her family in Toronto. She provides individual sleep consultations, either in-person or over the phone, and facilitates group seminars. In addition to completing her sleep consulting certification, Eva has her Bachelor of Arts from York University and her law degree from the University of Western Ontario.

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