It’s a horrid, scary and worrying thing to go through for both parent and child, so we thought we’d share our top tips with you into dealing with nasties in the night.
So then, What’s the difference between a night terror and nightmare?
A night terror, also known as a sleep terror predominantly affects children, and causes feelings of terror or dread. A night terror typically occurring in the first 1/2 hour to an hour of sleep.
Though night terrors can be alarming for parents who witness them, they’re not usually cause for concern or a sign of a deeper medical issue.
Littlies who have night terrors usually shout out or scream in their sleep, sit or stand up, and have a look of fear on their face. They will usually sweat, breathe fast and have a rapid heart rate.
What causes them?
- Night terrors are caused by over-arousal of the central nervous system during sleep. This may happen because the central nervous system which regulates sleep and waking brain activity is still maturing.
- Some littlies may even inherit a tendency for this over-arousal – about 80% who have night terrors have a family member who also experienced them or sleepwalking (a similar type of sleep disturbance.)
- Night terrors are most commonly triggered by being overtired, so ensure your littly has a good routine and if they are under 3, ensure they are having at least an hours rest-time or nap during the day. This can be a full sleep in their bed, or quiet time looking at books or watching TV.
- Sometimes sleeping in a new bed or away from home can trigger a night terror.
What can I do?
The best possible way to handle night terrors is to comfort and reassure your little one and snuggle them back down in their bed.
It’s tempting to pick up your child and take them into your own bed but it’s really important to keep them in their own bed. Bad habits are easily made and a child who is used to sleeping all night in their own bed suddenly won’t want to sleep there anymore.
Stay with your child until they are calm and their breathing is settled. Stroke their head and cuddle them back into bed. it’s important to let them get back to sleep themselves- don’t be tempted to rock, cuddle or stroke them to sleep.
A nightmare is an ‘bad’ dream that usually causes upset and fear and are quite common in young children.
A nightmare usually occurs sometime after 1 1/2 hours of sleep. (unlike a sleep terror which usually occurs within the first 1/2 hour to an hour of falling asleep.)
If your little one has had a nightmare they will find it hard to get back to sleep. They usually will be very distressed and upset and in extreme cases find settling at night (through worry of a nightmare returning) very difficult.
When nightmares become more frequent or occur on a regular basis, it may be a sign of stress in your child’s life or environment. Don’t panic! This doesnt necessaraly mean tsomething terrible and traumatic, it can be something as simple as changing class, moving house or starting a new school.
What causes them?
- Eating late at night! (Eating before bed triggers an increase in the body’s metabolism and brain activity.)
- The loss of a relative can triggure nightmares, as can loss of a pet or family seperations. (If you feel that these may be the cause of your childs bad dreams, it’s important to address the issues in the day by talking, drawing, reading and reassuring them through the difficult time.)
- Nightmares can often happen after reading or watching frightening things before bed, so while I’d not like to discourage bedtime stories, I’d advise steering clear of frightening books (older children) or perhaps monster stories for very young children if they have started to have nightmares.
- Nightmares are most commonly triggered by being overtired, so ensure your littly has a good daily routine and if they are under 3, ensure they are having at least an hours rest-time or nap during the day. This can be a full sleep in their bed, or quiet time looking at books or watching TV.
- Sometimes sleeping in a new bed or away from home can trigger a nightmare
What can I do?
As before – If you have suffered a nightmare yourself, you will possibly remember the feelings of worry and fear after. Sometimes bad dreams seem very real and can be terribly upsetting.
The best possible way to handle night terrors is to cuddle and reassure your little one and snuggle them back down in their bed. Make them feel safe again and talk through the dream with them if they can remember it.
It’s really important to remember here, to keep them in their own bed as bad habits are easily made! A child who is used to sleeping all night in their own bed suddenly won’t want to sleep there anymore!
Stay with your child until they are calm and their breathing is settled. Stroke their head and cuddle them back into bed. As mentioned before, it’s really important to let them get back to sleep themselves – don’t be tempted to rock, cuddle or stroke them to sleep.
Read books about bad dreams and reassure your child these are a normal thing and nothing to worry about.
A good bedtime routine is essential in getting a good night’s sleep. Regular bathtime, story, snuggles and lights-out each night will reassure and calm your littly before bed.
Try not to worry about nasties in the night…
We understand how distressing it is for you as a parent, but remember that nightmares and night terrors pass and they are part of childhood. If you are still concerned and would like more advice and help, please get in touch via the contact page for our free parenting advice service.