Nightmares vs Night Terrors

Nightmares vs Night Terrors

Does your child suffer from nightmares or night terrors? Did you know there is a difference? Disruptions in sleep patterns can be signs of underlying health issues such as stress, illness, being overtired, etc.  A regular bed time routine is helpful to your growing child.


Nightmares usually occur during the second phase of the night, during the deep dream (REM) stage of sleep.  You have probably experienced a nightmare so you likely remember waking up, feeling scared, and able to remember portions of the nightmare. It likely took you or your child extra time to fall asleep after the nightmare.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Go to your child as quickly as possible.
  • Assure her that you are there and will not let anything harm her.
  • Encourage your child to tell you what happened in the dream. Remind your child that dreams are not real.
  • Allow your child to keep a light on if it makes them feel better.
  • Once your child is ready, encourage her to go back to sleep.
  • See if there is something that is scaring your child, like shadows. If so, make sure they are gone.

Night terrors:

Night terrors occur most often in toddlers and preschoolers and take place during the deepest stages of sleep. Deepest sleep is usually early in the night, often before parents’ bedtime. During a night terror, your child might:

  • Cry uncontrollably
  • Sweat, shake, or breathe fast
  • Have a terrified, confused, or glassy-eyed look
  • Thrash around, scream, kick, or stare
  • Not recognize you or realize you are there
  • Try to push you away, especially if you try to hold him

While night terrors can last as long as 45 minutes, most are much shorter. Most children fall right back to sleep after a night terror because they actually have not been awake. Unlike a nightmare, a child will not remember a night terror.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Stay calm. Night terrors are often more frightening for the parent than the child.
  • Do not try to wake your child.
  • Make sure your child cannot hurt himself. If he tries to get out of bed, gently restrain him.
  • Remember, after a short time your child will probably relax and sleep quietly again. If night terrors persist, talk with your child’s doctor.

For ideas on healthy sleep routines click here.


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