Night Terrors and How to Deal With Them

Night Terrors and How to Deal With Them

What Are Night Terrors?

As any parent of a child with night terrors knows, night terrors are much more than just bad nightmares. If you’ve ever tried to console a child after a NT, you know how difficult it can be to bring the child back from that scary place. Because night terrors come during the transition to the deepest level of sleep (about 3 hours after bedtime) instead of during REM sleep, when most dreams occur, kids don’t remember their night terrors or even have an image to accompany the feeling of fear. Night terrors in babies and toddlers can be especially upsetting because the child is often unable to communicate their feelings. Understanding what causes night terrors can help you reduce or even eliminate them and console your child when they do occur.

Helping Your Young Child Deal With Night Terrors

Possible causes of night terrors include stress, overtiredness, taking a new medication, sleeping in an unfamiliar place, or overstimulation of the central nervous system (CNS) during sleep.

Reduce Stress

Reducing stress can have a significant effect on reducing night terrors. Toddlers and babies are sensitive to things like divorce in the home, any kind of physical or emotional trauma, or perceived stress in their parents. Do what you can to reduce stress in the home, and to help your child understand what they might be going through.

Prevent Overtiredness

A child who becomes overtired can often have a hard time relaxing enough to settle into undisturbed sleep. You may need to make bedtime an hour or two earlier to ensure your child is getting the sleep he needs. It may feel counter-intuitive, since the wakefulness might seem like he’s not tired, but in reality, his little body is more exhausted than it’s built to be, causing hypersensitivity in his CNS. If your child started getting night terrors shortly after dropping his nap or after bedtime was extended, it may be a sign that the change in routine came a little too soon.

Establish a Bedtime Routine

Establishing a consistent bedtime routine can help create a rhythm that your child will recognize and respond to. For example, if dinner is over around 6 pm, do 45 minutes of family play or movie watching (promoting familial security), give the kids their baths to help them relax (gentle lavender scents like Tubby Todd’s Hair and Body Wash and Lotion have been shown to promote sleep), and finish the evening routine with the regular toothbrushing and story/song/prayer that you normally do. Finally, once your child is in bed, give them a few minutes to pillow talk with you. Have a quiet talk about the day’s or week’s events, how school is going, or just let your child vent or ask questions. It doesn’t have to be sleep-focused - your child may have a handful of questions on whales or cars or anything else. But giving him the chance to empty his mind in a safe setting can help him wind down, prepare for sleep, and even de-stress in a small way.

Provide Comforting Items for Scary Nights

There are even physical items that can help reduce stress and nighttime fears in children. If your child has a comfort item such as a super-soft Saranoni blanket or a cuddly Musy Mate Lovey from Aden + Anais, make sure the item is accessible during the night so if they wake up in fear, they can focus on the item and find comfort in it. Many children are inconsolable after night terrors, especially after being woken up. It can be helpful to keep a nightlight like the Boon GLO Night Light in your child’s room, so if you need to go in to comfort him, he can easily see your face or even focus on the light as you help calm him down. If night terrors persist, or you think additional measures should be taken, family or school counseling, sleep therapy, or other forms of therapy can help your child cope with their circumstances.

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