Dealing with Nightmares and Night Terrors

Nearly every parent has had the experience of comforting a child after a distressing dream. However, if these episodes occur too frequently or seem to be leading to daytime anxiety in your child, you may be wondering if there is something that you should do. It is important to understand the differences between nightmares and night terrors and to know when you should seek help from your child’s physician.

How Do Nightmares Happen?

Nightmares are scary dreams that awaken children. Sometimes they occur after your child has watched or read something scary. Other times, they occur for no apparent reason. These dreams typically occur during the REM portion of sleep, and your child will probably be able to tell you what happened during the dream.

On the other hand, night terrors usually result in only partial wakening even though your child may sit straight up in bed and scream. Other symptoms could include sweating and faster breathing. Your child will probably go back to sleep in a few minutes. Most of the time, your child will have no remembrance of this episode in the morning and will not be able to say what scared him.

Your child will need you to comfort him if he is going through either of these issues. Talking through what happened, staying with your child while he is awake, and leaving the bedroom door open can help your child calm down enough to go back to sleep after a nightmare. However, because a night terror can result in a great panic, you will need to protect your child from bodily harm while resisting the urge to wake him up in the middle of the episode.

Handling Night Terrors

Nightmares are usually not harmful. Most children outgrow them or find that they become less problematic if they avoid certain television shows, books, or video games. However, if the nightmares are intruding on your child’s daytime life or causing him undue anxiety, you should contact his pediatrician.

Similarly, night terrors are typically not harmful as long as they are not regularly interrupting your child’s sleep. If the episodes last longer than half an hour or if your child becomes stiff or starts to drool during an episode, you should immediately reach out to his pediatrician because this could indicate an underlying problem.

Contact Kids 1st Pediatrics if you have any further questions about healthy childhood sleep.