What Are Nightmares For Toddlers?

Nightmares aren’t avoidable, but parents can help their kids feel better by learning what nightmares really are for their toddlers.

People who suffer from night terrors (also known as sleep terrors) wake up from their deep slumber in panic, screaming,and with great difficulty. Night terrors are sometimes mistaken for nightmares, although nightmares occur during rapid eye movement (REM) or dream sleep. In contrast, night terrors occur during deep sleep or the transition phase between sleep stages and are not connected with a horrible dream.

In studies on the prevalence of sleep terrors, data range from under 2 percent to over 50 percent, demonstrating a range of occurrences. Researchers believe that underreporting, the study’s design, the participants’ age, and mistaking a nightmare for a night terror or vice versa may be to blame for the significant variance.

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According to a study, these parasomnias (abnormal behavior of the central nervous system when sleeping) are more common in young children, although it’s not clear why. The number of night terrors a child experiences might range from one or two to several per night for months at a time.

For the most part, youngsters outgrow this sleep problem, and for most of them, it’s a short-lived phase.

Around 33% of 18-month-olds experience night terrors on occasion, according to a study conducted in 2015. Children under the age of 13 are more likely than any other age group to experience sleep terrors, with 56% reporting having experienced at least one. Night terrors in early children have a significant hereditary link to this sleep disturbance.


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Children who are suffering a sleep terror are more challenging to wake up than those who have a nightmare. The reason for this is that they are still a bit dizzy. A drowsy expression and watery eyes are common characteristics of their demeanor. Additionally, they won’t be able to describe a frightening dream because they weren’t dreaming.

Nightmares can cause children to do the following:

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  • Don’t be able to cry.
  • Don’t respond when people contact you.
  • Be frightened or agitated.
  • After the episode, drift back to sleep without full reawakening.
  • Kick
  • I can’t recall the dread of the night.
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  • Scream or make a sound of despair
  • Open your eyes wide and take a moment to take it all in.
  • Sit up abruptly.
  • Excessively perspire or exhale.
  • Throw yourself around a bit.

A night terror usually subsides within a few minutes, but it can continue for longer in rare cases. Unlike dreams, which leave a lasting impression, night terrors do not since the child is asleep at the time of the experience.


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When a person is in a deep slumber and not dreaming, night terrors can occur during non-rapid eye movement sleep. It is common for non-REM sleep to begin roughly two or three hours after youngsters have fallen asleep. Researchers aren’t sure why or how to prevent night terrors, but they assume it has something to do with overstimulating the central nervous system.

While the actual origins of sleep terrors remain a mystery, the following conditions may increase the likelihood of their occurring:

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  • Tiredness or sleep deprivation
  • Routine or schedule changes, such as during vacation or a shift in daily habits
  • Sleep terrors run in the family.
  • Fever or ill health
  • Breathing problems during sleep, such as apnea
  • Stress

A new medication, new surroundings, or excessive coffee use may also cause youngsters to suffer from night terrors. In addition, as previously indicated, there may be a genetic component. This sleep condition may be more common in children with a family history of night terrors (or a related disorder, such as sleepwalking) than in those with no family history.

What You Can Do to Help

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It’s best not to disturb your child during a night terror since they may get more agitated and confused. Forcefully rousing someone during a night terror might exacerbate the situation by making it more difficult for the person affected to return to sleep later in the evening. The most critical consideration is their safety while attending the event.

Reassure your child that they are secure at all times while having a night of terror, and if this helps them relax, hold them until it is done. It’s best to ensure they don’t tumble or crash into anything because they aren’t aware of their surroundings. Other than that, all you have to do is wait for your child to fall asleep again.

Remedies that you can make at home.

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Night terrors cannot be cured or prevented with any certainty. Some families, on the other hand, have found that the following measures reduce both the frequency and the intensity of the episodes:

Keep other caregivers (such as grandparents or babysitters) informed of the illness and what to handle if it occurs during sleepovers, which are more likely to occur in unfamiliar environments.

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  • Put your child to sleep with a simple and relaxing routine.
  • Don’t let them stay up too late, and stick to a normal bedtime.
  • To ensure your child’s safety, make sure they sleep in the same bed as you or in the same room as you.
  • Wake up your child 15 minutes or so early if they get night terrors simultaneously every night. This will prevent the night terrors. Then put them back to bed.
  • Relieve your child of any stress they may be feeling.
  • Make sure they don’t get too fatigued.
  • As far as possible, try to adhere to your child’s normal bedtime routine while on the road.

In what situations should you seek medical attention?

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Make an appointment with your pediatrician if your child’s night terrors become frequent or intrusive enough to disrupt their sleep, linger more than 30 minutes at a time, or substantially influence their daily life.

For your doctor’s benefit, keep a sleep journal to document any patterns in your behavior or overnight awakenings. This will assist your doctor in better understand your concerns. Additionally, you’ll be able to provide them with information you may have forgotten and a broader clinical perspective on the problem.

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The doctor will examine your child to rule out any underlying medical conditions or physical causes for the night terrors. If your doctor is particularly concerned or believes a second opinion could be beneficial, they may offer a sleep study or send your kid to a sleep specialist.

Most of the time, no problems need to be addressed. Even if you think your child’s night terrors are just a phase, it’s crucial to tell your doctor if they become more frequent or intense.

It’s hard to trust that your child isn’t in danger or in real distress when they’re having a sleep nightmare. It’s important to realize that this is a frequent problem for toddlers, isn’t harmful to your child, and will go away on its own.

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