Witnessing your little one having a nightmare or night terror can be quite worrying and distressing. Nightmares and night terrors can often be easily confused, so it is important to understand the differences before offering your child appropriate settling strategies. To make things even more confusing, contrary to their name, nightmares and night terrors can happen at any sleep period, including during day time naps.
Nightmares are experienced when a child is awoken from vivid dreams with intense feelings of fear or dread. Older children may be able recall the content of the dreams with a fair degree of detail. Nightmares are often attributed to a child seeing or hearing something frightening or that causes them anxiety.
A night terror is when a child suddenly gets very agitated while in a state of deep sleep. The child may be sound asleep one minute, and next they are screaming and thrashing about. It may look like the child is in a panic – he may be sweating and breathing fast. It may look like he is awake, his eyes may be open or he may be crying. The child is however actually sleep so won’t respond to comfort, making it quite distressing for parents and caregivers. Night terrors tend to start within the first 2-3 hours after bedtime.
Nightmares – some common features:
How can you help:
Night terrors – some common features:
How you can help:
As your baby develops into a toddler, they become increasingly aware of the world around them.
While this can be an exciting time for your toddler, it can also be challenging and frustrating for you both, as they begin to exert their independence and insist on doing things on their own.
The Guide to Toddlers is the perfect place to learn all of the skills and behaviours of your toddler and gentle and effective ways to communicate with them.
Many parents have reduced sleep. The Safe Sleep Space website has a variety of resources and supports to provide tips and advice on how to assist your baby with sleep. You can also book a phone consultation to speak with a Sleep Consultant.
Cindy Davenport is a child and family health nurse, midwife and lactation consultant, and has worked in the early parenting field since 1998. She is the Co- Director of Safe Sleep Space (an early parenting consultancy group specialising in sleep and settling of infants and toddlers) and Sleep Smart (an online sleep and settling program for early childhood educators and health professionals.
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