As a parent, when we put our children to bed, we often wait just a few seconds more, watching our child peacefully fall asleep. Sometimes we get an unexpected startle in the middle of the night in which our son or daughter is woken up by a bad dream. Usually, it’s just a traditional nightmare, so we can easily help the child feel safe enough to go back to sleep. However, that’s not always the case.
There is another type of sleep disruption called a night terror. In this phase, the child is nearly inconsolable because they have had a dream that has resulted in a distressed state of mind and can even lead to sleepwalking. Though, how do you know if your child has had a nightmare or a night terror? Here are some tips to illustrate the differences:
- The dream is vividly remembered, so the child is able to explain in precise detail what happened.
- The child can get back to sleep easier after experiencing comfort from a caregiver.
- Nightmares can be triggered by change, scary movies, or even by experiencing a natural disaster.
- They usually only last for a brief period.
- The child will most likely be able to recall the dream even into the next day.
To help your child get back to sleep, let them talk and explain what happened in the dream. This way they are able to get it out of their system and out of their mind. Then offer your child reassurance that the ordeal is over and that it is safe to go back to bed.
If your child is old enough to understand the difference between real and make believe, explain to them that the dream is not real and that they can control what happens if something becomes too scary. If they understand, it might make dreaming more fun, lighthearted, and lets them have an adventure while sleeping.
- Most children don’t even remember the incident the next morning.
- In this sleep disruption, the child is stressed, may sit up in bed, sleepwalk, scream for several minutes, or even start thrashing.
- The child’s heart rate and breathing level may increase.
- This situation may last for several minutes.
- These can be the result of fatigue, stress, or even caffeine.
The best way to assist your child through this experience is to wait it out as difficult as that sounds. Do not wake children up during a night terror as that may cause fear, disorientation, and even difficulties for them in going back to sleep. However, do make sure your child doesn’t get hurt if they are thrashing around. Some kids will calm down and go back to sleep on their own after a little time has passed.
Both nightmares and night terrors are scary experiences for children, but these sleep disruptions are not unusual unless they happen regularly. If they do occur routinely, our pediatricians, at Bard & Didriksen Pediatrics, can determine if it would be necessary for your child to see a sleep specialists. To schedule an appointment, or for more information regarding nightmares vs. night terrors, contact us today so that we can help your children get back to a restful and peaceful night’s sleep.