toddler care

Night terrors in children

What they are and what you can do to help

Night terrors: How you can help

How to help your little one avoid night terrors

bed wetting

On the other end of the spectrum we’ve all had to comfort our little ones after the occasional nightmare, but night terrors are totally different to this.

What are night terrors?

A night terror is a sleep occurrence seems similar to a nightmare, but is far more dramatic. They can occur in babies from around nine months but are more common in little ones from around three to eight years old.

During a night terror, which lasts from two to 15 minutes, your little one may cry, scream and shout out in panic. They may jump out of their beds and their eyes will be open. However, they aren’t fully awake and won’t remember anything about this event when they wake up.

You may find that your little one is inconsolable no matter how much you try to comfort them. However, although it can be tough for you both, the good news is that these aren’t harmful.

How do night terrors differ from nightmares?

Without going all sciency on you…During a typical night, sleep occurs in several stages. Each is associated with particular brain activity, and it's during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage that most dreaming occurs.

Nightmares occur during rapid eye movement (REM) or dream sleep. And once your child is awake they may be able to tell you what has frightened them. If they are old enough!

A night terror is caused by partial awakenings from non-REM, or non-dream, sleep and that’s why they occur about two to three hours after your little one falls asleep – it’s when sleep transitions from the non-REM sleep to lighter REM sleep, the stage where dreams occur. Usually this transition is a smooth one. But sometimes, a child becomes agitated and frightened — and that fear reaction is a night terror.

What can you do when your little one is having a night terror?

Seeing your little one so upset is bound to make you feel the same and your first instinct will be to want to hold them and try to wake them up. However, doing this can make it worse. Instead sit beside them until they calm down talking gently to them. You’ll probably find that after a night terror your child will fall straight back to sleep.

However, if your child is having regular night terrors at around the same time every night, some experts advise waking them before the event usually happens. This could help get them out of the routine.

It’s also a good idea to speak to your doctor if your little one is having frequent night terrors.

How can I prevent a night terror?

Night terrors are more likely to occur if your little one is overtired, ill or stressed or sleeping in a new environment or away from home.

There's no treatment for night terrors, but you can help prevent them. Try to:

  • Establish and stick to a bedtime routine that's simple, calm and relaxing
  • Make sure your child gets enough rest
  • Prevent your little one from becoming overtired by staying up too late.

Night terrors in children