Author Topic: Nightmares and night terrors.  (Read 28221 times)

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Nightmares and night terrors.
« on: November 26, 2007, 19:51:37 pm »

We tend to get many posts about nightmares and night terrors so I hope this sticky will give some information that will be useful. If your child is waking screaming at night I would advise that, you eliminate any other causes that could be disturbing their sleep as well.
If anybody wishes to add more research please feel free.


Nightmares (or bad dreams) occur during REM sleep mostly in the second half of the night. Tracy describes it as a psychological experience where the mind is active but the body is at rest.

Your child will normally awake crying and /or screaming and will be fully aware of you entering the room. They may take some time to settle especially if they cannot be convinced there is nothing to be afraid of.

Usually the best way to deal with nightmares is to immediately comfort and reassure them. If they want to talk about the nightmare let them but do not force details from them.

Don’t minimize their fears - to a young child their dream is very real to them. Offer lots of hugs and kisses and if they are afraid of the dark maybe leave a night light on. Reassure them that you are just in the next room.

If your child wakes regularly from nightmares its worth looking at other aspects of their life that may be causing them. Maybe it’s a TV programme or book before bedtime that’s causing the nightmare. Children under the age of three have a very difficult time understanding the difference between reality and fantasy.


Called “confusional arousal” in toddlers and can occur from as young as 10 months. Night terrors are a physiological experience-the body is active but the mind is not. Basically, what happens with night terrors is they are “stuck” between sleep cycles. Instead of transitioning from deep sleep to REM, your child is caught between these two stages.
Night terrors normally happen within the first part of the night usually 1-4 hours from when they went to sleep. They normally last about 10 minutes (although can be as long as 20 mins).

When a child has a night terror, you will hear a high-pitched scream. When you enter their room, they are normally not aware of your presence. They will have their eyes wide open, usually the body is rigid (some may thrash about in their cot/bed also) and your child may be in a cold sweat and their face flushed.

Although they appear to be awake, the majority of experts believe that the child is actually asleep and no attempt to wake the child should be made. Usually trying to wake them only prolongs the night terror. The general advice is to offer verbal reassurance and to ensure the child does not hurt itself if thrashing about. Some children maybe comforted with a pat but the best way is to ride the episode out.

Remember night terrors are more frightening for the parent/carer than the child. Your child will have no recollection of the night terror and its best not to mention it to them the next day.

The huge majority of children will grow out of nightmares and night terrors as they get older and usually no professional intervention is required. However if you have any concerns regarding your child’s sleep and feel they are having frequent nightmares or night terrors then its advisable to consult your Doctor or paediatrician.

(Information taken from -The Baby Whisperer solves all your problems-Tracy Hogg  pg 271 and The contented Toddler years-Gina ford)