child in bedWhat is the difference between a Nightmare and a Night Terror?

Nightmares tend to happen in the later part of a night’s sleep (typically in the early morning hours). Children wake up from nightmares feeling upset, afraid, and unsettled—and they respond to comfort from a parent or caregiver.

Children may be reluctant to go back to sleep after a nightmare and often need comfort and reassurance in order to feel safe. Children tend to remember at least parts of a nightmare after it has happened.

Night terrors tend to happen in the first 2 or 3 hours of sleep. Children don’t respond to efforts to calm, reassure, or comfort them. Children usually do not remember having a night terror and cannot be awakened during one.

What Causes Night Terrors?
Night terrors are caused by over-arousal of the central nervous system (CNS) during sleep. This may happen because the CNS (which regulates sleep and waking brain activity) is still maturing.

Night terrors can happen more frequently in children who are:

• Fatigued, ill, or stressed
• Taking a new medication
• Sleeping in a new environment or away from home

Coping With Night Terrors

The best way to handle a night terror is to wait it out patiently and make sure the child doesn’t get hurt by thrashing around. Children usually settle down and return to sleep on their own in a few minutes.

It’s best not to try to wake a child during a night terror. Attempts usually don’t work, and children who do wake are likely to be disoriented and confused, and may take longer to settle down and go back to sleep.

Parents can help prevent night terrors by:

• reducing a child’s stress
• establishing and sticking to a bedtime routine that’s simple and relaxing
• making sure children gets enough rest
• preventing children from becoming overtired by staying up too late

Most of the time, night terrors simply disappear on their own as the nervous system matures.

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