How do I Deal with Night Terrors in Toddlers? (with pictures)

Laura M. Sands
Laura M. Sands
Night terrors in toddlers are in a group of sleep disorders known as parasomnia.
Night terrors in toddlers are in a group of sleep disorders known as parasomnia.

Night terrors in toddlers are commonly due to a child having a fever or being overly fatigued, stressed or experiencing an environmental change, such as moving to a new house. They do not psychologically harm children and your child is not having an actual nightmare. Experts, therefore, recommend simply watching over your child to make sure he does not sleepwalk or otherwise hurt himself while in a state of panic. During your child’s waking hours attempt to reduce his stress and be sure he is getting enough rest by establishing a healthy bedtime schedule to reduce the likelihood of future sleep terrors.

Disruption of sleep due to fever may cause night terrors.
Disruption of sleep due to fever may cause night terrors.

Night terrors in toddlers fall under a group of sleep disorders known as parasomnia. Also known as sleep terrors, children with this disorder often experience night screaming and moments of sheer panic and fear. They occur in boys and girls, but boys seem more likely to experience them than girls. Also, research has shown that night terrors in toddlers occur more frequently in children with one or more close relatives who also experience night terrors.

Children who experience night terrors will often scream and have moments of intense panic and fear.
Children who experience night terrors will often scream and have moments of intense panic and fear.

You may try to awaken your child during a sleep terror, but you will most likely be unable to do so since he is deeply asleep. If you are able to wake your child, he will likely have no idea why you are doing so, as children only very rarely have any recollection of sleep terrors when they are awake. It is better to not disturb your child’s sleep, but to allow the episode to take its course and let him settle down again naturally. It may comfort you to know that night terrors in toddlers are not actually as frightening to children as they are to parents and siblings who witness them.

Night terrors in toddlers are not unusual. Although your child may appear to be frightened out of his little wits by a nightmare, the truth is that toddler night terrors are not, in any way, connected to a bad dream. Night terrors in toddlers do not occur during REM sleep when a child is actually dreaming, but occur during deep non-REM sleep cycles, instead. Some scientists who study night terrors in toddlers and adults further believe that they may be caused by an overstimulation of the central nervous system. Also, while your child may appear to be wide awake and in a state of panic over an unknown terror, the truth is that she or he is still fast asleep.

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    • Night terrors in toddlers are in a group of sleep disorders known as parasomnia.
      Night terrors in toddlers are in a group of sleep disorders known as parasomnia.
    • Disruption of sleep due to fever may cause night terrors.
      Disruption of sleep due to fever may cause night terrors.
    • Children who experience night terrors will often scream and have moments of intense panic and fear.
      Children who experience night terrors will often scream and have moments of intense panic and fear.