Every parent dreads the middle-of-the-night cries. But what if your child’s screams are accompanied by thrashing and a vacant stare? These could be night terrors, a scary but common sleep issue in children.

Night Terrors vs. Nightmares: Understanding the Nighttime Drama

Night Terrors in Children can be frightening for both parents and children. But there are key differences between night terrors and nightmares:

  • Night Terrors: A state of partial wakefulness where children appear confused and unresponsive, experiencing intense fear and sometimes thrashing around. Night terrors are brief, lasting a few minutes, and children typically don’t remember them.
  • Nightmares: Vivid, scary dreams that wake children up feeling upset. Nightmares involve full awareness, moderate fear that eases with comfort, and the ability to recall the dream content.

Night Terrors in Children: Signs and Symptoms

Knowing the signs of night terrors in children can help you stay calm and respond effectively:

  • Sudden awakening with screaming and crying
  • Disoriented and unresponsive behavior
  • Wide, vacant eyes
  • Sweating or rapid breathing
  • Thrashing or flailing
  • Short-lived episode (usually under 5 minutes)
  • No memory of the event upon waking

Calming Your Child During Night Terrors

Night terrors can be unsettling for parents, but here’s how to help your child:

  • Stay calm and quiet. Avoid waking your child completely.
  • Ensure their safety. Gently guide them back to bed and remove any potential hazards.
  • Offer comfort when they wake naturally. Reassurance and a calming presence can help them drift back to sleep.

Nightmares in Children: The Scary Dream Scenario

Nightmares are a normal part of childhood development. Here’s how they differ from night terrors:

  • Full awareness upon waking. Your child will recognize you and be able to describe the dream.
  • Moderate fear that subsides with comfort. Reassurance and cuddles can usually ease their worry.
  • Memory of the dream content. Children often remember the details of a nightmare.

Helping Your Child After a Nightmare

Nightmares can make bedtime a little scary. Here’s how to help your child:

  • Offer reassurance and cuddles. Let them know you’re there for them.
  • Talk about the dream. Help them process the scary parts and rewrite the ending to a positive one.
  • Create a calming bedtime routine. This can include a warm bath, reading a book, or quiet playtime.

Night Terrors in Children: When to Seek Professional Help

While night terrors are common, consult a healthcare professional if:

  • They occur frequently (several times a week)
  • Cause significant distress to your child
  • Disrupt their sleep quality

A specialist can explore underlying causes and recommend treatment options, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for sleep disorders, which I specialize in.

Sweet Dreams: Helping Your Child Get a Good Night’s Sleep

By understanding night terrors in children, you can create a safe and supportive sleep environment. Remember, most children outgrow night terrors naturally. If you have any concerns, a healthcare professional can provide further guidance.


For a free preliminary assessment sleep questionnaire please click here