Nightmares and Night Terrors

Your toddler’s imagination is developing, and the ability for pretend play sometimes interrupts sleep. Vivid dreams and nightmares may frighten your child, especially while he’s still learning to distinguish reality from imaginary. And then there are “night terrors,” which differ from nightmares in many ways.

Nightmares happen in what is called REM sleep (when dreams occur). A child experiencing a nightmare can usually be soothed back to sleep. She may remember her nightmare in the morning and even be able to talk about it.

Night terrors happen during arousal from deep sleep. A child having a night terror is inconsolable. His eyes may be wide open, but he doesn’t seem to recognize you. In the morning, he won’t remember the incident or be able to talk about it.

If your child does experience a night terror, you may need to wait it out; these sleep disturbances can last for as long as 15 minutes. Keep him from falling out of bed or otherwise hurting himself.

Some studies have shown a genetic tendency for night terrors, along with sleepwalking. If either of a young child’s parents experienced these sleep disturbances as a child, the young child is more likely to as well.

Both night terrors and sleepwalking are usually outgrown by adolescence.

Disclaimer: This page is not intended to provide medical advice about your child. Always seek the advice of a physician, qualified healthcare provider or child-development specialist with any questions you have about your child's health, medical condition or development. Never disregard, avoid or delay contacting a doctor or other qualified professional because of something you read here.

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