Night Terrors in Toddlers

If you gone through your first pregnancy successfully and are now enjoying your time with your bundle of joy, the chances are you have so many questions on your mind. Many first-time moms become concerned about night terrors in toddlers. What you should understand is that there is no reason to be scared because night terrors are normal in most cases and seldom scare your toddler. Your baby usually experiences it when overtired.

Night Terrors – What Are They?

It is a situation when your baby partially wakes up from sleep with behaviors such as kicking, screaming, panic or mumbling. Here are the most common characteristics of a night terror:

  • Your child may feel frightened but is not fully awake
  • Your toddler's eyes are open but they seem to ignore your presence
  • You child experiences it from 10 minutes to half an hour
  • Your child remembers nothing about the episode in the morning

What Causes Night Terrors in Toddlers?

Over-arousal of the central nervous system is usually the root cause of night terrors. The problem is more common in kids who are taking a new medication, extremely tired or stressed or sleeping away from home.

Night terrors are not that common, as they affect only 3-6% of kids usually between the ages of 4 to 12. However, they can also affect kids as young as 18 months. It is important to note that your child may have a single night terror or several throughout the night. The issue resolves on its own once the nervous system matures.

How Are Night Terrors Different from Nightmares?

The biggest difference is that a nightmare will wake your child up from sleep. That does not happen with night terrors. Most kids actually remember their dreams in the morning and know they had a rough night. They will feel comforted by your presence when they have a nightmare, but they will not notice your presence at all in case of a night terror.

Most children have nightmares in the early morning hours, usually after 2 a.m. in the morning. Night terrors are more common during the first few hours of the night. The best way to know if your kids had a nightmare or night terror is to wait for the next morning. If your child seems agitated, it may be a nightmare. If you are the one who is scared, agitated and disturbed, it may be a night terror.

What Can You Do If Your Child Is Experiencing Night Terrors?

Parents want to know how to deal with night terrors in toddlers. Here are the steps you can take to ensure your child sleeps through the night without any problem.

1. Prevent Sleep Deprivation

You need to maintain a regular sleep schedule to ensure that your child is not sleep deprived. The kids are more likely to experience night terrors when they are sleep deprived.

2. Make the Daytime Peaceful

Be close to your child and learn about any possible disruptions in their lives. If there are school or caregiver problems, resolve them as soon as possible. You should avoid domestic upsets as well and communicate with your child to ensure there is nothing bothering them. Keeping the calm during the day is the key to a peaceful sleep.

3. Check the Diet

Keep an eye on what your child eats. Caffeinated drinks and other junk food will definitely cause sleep problems in kids. Give your child a raisin-oatmeal cookie with milk or a hardboiled egg with a slice of whole-wheat toast or another sleep-inducing food as a bedtime snack. Avoid carbs before bedtime.

4. Enjoy an Active Day

Spend time with your child and encourage him/her to be active throughout the day. Healthy activity plays a role in releasing neurohormones that in turn relaxes the body and brain of your child.

5. Stick to a Calming Before-Bed Ritual

Do not let your child watch scary TV shows before bedtime. Instead, design a nighttime ritual to help the child go to sleep with ease. Give him/her a warm bath, rub the back, and tell bedtime stories to help the kid go to sleep.

6. Maintain a Peaceful Sleeping Environment

Do not let your child feel that you are worried due to the night terrors. It is obvious to be terrified, but you need to remain calm. Reassure your child that everything is fine. You can let the child sleep with you for a few nights to help your baby feel secured and protected.

When to Call Your Child's Doctor

Night terrors in toddlers are harmless, but they may cause other conditions. It is therefore a good idea to talk to your child's doctor if you notice other symptoms as well. Consult your child's physician if:

  • Your child is jerking, drooling, or stiffening
  • Terrors are interrupting sleep more often
  • The episodes last longer than half an hour
  • Your child experiences daytime fears and feels stressed out
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