Help! I think my baby is having a nightmare or night terror?

Last night at 1145 pm  our little boy twin woke screaming- I mean blood curdling, high pitched, send the fear of god through your blood, bolt upright out of bed type of screaming! We ran into his room, and he was hidden under his doona, absolutely freaking out yelling “noooo, nooo, don’t, don’t”. We gently (after putting our hearts back in our chests), tried to comfort him, called his name- but it was as if he was in a trance- OR a few weeks ago our girl twin about 430 am in the morning came running in touched my face (nothing like a stroke on your face to scare the living daylights out of you), crying saying “mummy i am scared the crocodile tried to eat me”- it took 30 mins to console her, reassure her that crocodiles did not live under her bed. With a torch check, turned on her pillow pet, and a bit of a back massage she went happily back to sleep. She could remember what happened in the morning and we talked about what was real versus make-believe.

Sound familiar? Is your child  having nightmares or night terrors?

Nightmares occur during REM sleep, which happens near the end of our sleep period. When children have a nightmare, they will seek comfort from their disturbing dream and recognize you upon seeing you. They are able to recall the nightmare, but it may take a while to fall back asleep and get the scary thoughts out of their minds. Nightmares are very common and are part of normal development. Their occurrence often peaks at two or three years of age when children have rich imaginations and trouble distinguishing between reality and fantasy.

-Avoid scary videos, books, etc. prior to bed.

-Don’t play scary games.

-Respond quickly when your kid has a nightmare and assure him that he’s safe.

– Help your child get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can increase nightmares.

-Check with your pediatrician to make sure your child is not on any medications that might be interfering with his night sleep.

Our little boy had a night terror though. 

Night terrors are different from nightmares in both the symptoms and the experience. When a child is experiencing a night terror he/she may scream and appear anxious and may not recognize you when you approach him/her. There may also be sweating and/or a racing heartbeat. The child is often inconsolable, they may cry, whimper or frail around the bed. The terror usually lasts between five and fifteen minutes and then subsides. These incidents are often more upsetting for the parent than they are for the child, as children do not usually remember them. Night terrors occur during NON-REM sleep and usually occur within two-four hours of going to sleep. Night terrors are not bad dreams. They do NOT occur during dream sleep. They are not a sign of a psychological problem.

Night terrors seem to be more common in boys, and occur in 5% of all children. Sometimes they occur when your kid is working on a developmental milestone. Your child is more likely to have night terrors if either parent had them as a child, or if either parent had a partial arousal sleep disorder such as sleepwalking. The most common cause of night terrors is sleep deprivation or a disturbance in a child’s sleep patterns—like traveling to different time zones, a new home or a later bedtime. Other reasons for night terrors can include sleep apnea and fevers.

How to handle a Night Terror:

-If your child is having a night terror, monitor your child but avoid interfering, as this can worsen the episode.

-Make sure your child is physically safe during the night terror.

-Put your child to bed earlier.

-Keep a regular sleep schedule.

-Don’t talk about the terror with your child in the morning.

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