How Do I Know If My Child Is Having Night Terrors and What Can I Do About Them?

Feb 13, 2018

Night terrors.

The name simply conjures up an image of All Things Scary, no?

But... are night terrors really as scary as they're cracked up to be?


When Do Night Terrors Happen?

A true night terror happens in a different part of sleep than a nightmare. Nightmares are most likely to happen when most dreaming happens - in REM sleep.

Night terrors, though, happen in deep sleep, and it seems that they happen in between cycles -- it's like the brain gets stuck while transitioning between stages 3 and 4 or when moving into REM sleep.


What Do True Night Terrors Look Like?

The way you'll know that it's a night terror is that your child will not respond - not to your touch, not to your voice.

She won't make eye contact, she won't react to her name being called, she won't be soothed. She'll just be crying inconsolably in her bed - like the lights are on but no one is home.

You may ask questions, and get a non-sequitur kind of response - incoherent babbling that doesn't really answer what you asked. If she does say something, it would likely be along the lines of someone chasing her, or having to get away.

If your child is getting out of bed to come find you, or calms down when you hug, rub or talk to her, then likely what you're seeing is a nightmare, not a night terror.

Read THIS for more info on the difference between night terrors and nightmares, or look HERE for my post about nightmares.


Is Your Child Really Afraid?

And night terrors are really, really frightening.

For you.

Your child clearly seems to be frightened, and while it's something that can be only a few seconds it can be up to 30 minutes!

Watching your child seem so afraid and distressed is terrifying to watch, but a child who is experiencing a night terror is not truly afraid at all - he simply shows signs of being afraid: screaming, thrashing, etc. - as his brain struggles through that transition.

And the next morning, children hardly ever remember what happened if asked. Sometimes they'll have a vague sense of running away from something.


How to Prevent Night Terrors

Night terrors are usually caused by overtiredness. Insufficient sleep is the number one reason out there that children have night terrors.

Soooo that means that the number one thing that you can do to prevent night terrors is make sure your child gets enough sleep.

One other biggy in the cause of night terrors is iron deficiency. If your child has night terrors and you're sure they're getting the sleep they need, it may be helpful to bring him to get a blood count, and offer iron-rich foods or supplemental iron if recommended by your pediatrician.

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