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Nightmares or Night Terrors?
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Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP posted:
I noticed there have been several posts recently about night terrors and nightmares. This can be scary for the whole family and interrupts everyone's sleep schedule. Let's see if I can help. First off, night terrors and nightmares are very different.

Night terrors usually occur in the first third of the night. The typical scenario is a child wakes up a few hours after going to sleep, acting like she is possessed. She may scream, shake, point at things and call out, "No! No! I can't!" She may not be comforted by you and may not even recognize that you are in the room. Reassure her, "You're ok. Mommy is here." Keep lights dim and speak softly. She should easily go back to sleep after the episode. The next morning she won't remember the event, although everyone else in the house will.

What can you do to break the cycle? Since night terrors generally occur around the same time every night, try waking your child up about 15 to 30 minutes prior to the episode. This will break her sleep cycle and her body will jump into the next stage of sleep when the terrors don't occur. Also, make sure your child is not over-tired. Stress and tiredness can contribute to night terrors. Put her to bed a little earlier at night or make sure she gets a nap if she still needs one. Most children outgrow night terrors as they get older.

Nightmares typically happen during the second half of the night. Almost everyone has had a nightmare at some point. You're riding your bike at the beach and then all of the sudden a large wave is crashing down on you?.you thrash around in your bed trying to get some air until you wake up scared or somebody comforts you. A child with nightmares will wake up fully and respond to parental comforting. He may remember the dream, even the next day. Reassurance helps this resolve. Talk to him about the dreams and explain that they are not real. Take a look at his environment (school, home, etc.) and see if there is anything bothering him. Stress from the day, school or sports, life changes such as moving or divorce can all cause stress that leads to nightmares. Scary books, movies, stories from friends or on-line can also contribute.

To help prevent nightmares, get into a healthy sleep routine. Put your child or teen to bed about the same time every night. Avoid eating, exercise, watching TV, surfing the Internet, reading scary books or watching movies right before bed. Have your child sleep with a stuffed toy or favorite blanket as this may help them feel more secure. This works for teens too! Turn on a night light and keep his door open. Talk to your pediatrician if the nightmares persist.

- Dr. Tanya
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Louise_WebMD_Staff responded:
My children don't seem to have nightmares at this point--but they do talk in their sleep and some of it is troubling. The kids never remember it, so should I be concerned about the talking in their sleep?

Members: What sleep issues do you have in your home?
 
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Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP replied to Louise_WebMD_Staff's response:
Kids (and some adults) often talk in their sleep. You may notice it more often when they are overtired or sick. What they say may not make sense and don't waste your own sleep trying to decipher the meaning. As long as he wakes up well rested in the morning, don't let it bother you. If he seems drowsy during the day or you feel he isn't getting a good nights sleep, talk to your pediatrician.
 
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Louise_WebMD_Staff replied to Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP's response:
I never worried too much about it as I do talk in my sleep-especially as you said--when overtired or sick. But, I was curious as to whether it was just something I ignored because it isn't a big deal for me. Thank you.
 
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Louise_WebMD_Staff responded:
I had another question--if your child just seems prone to nightmares and seems not to have any type of mental illness, what steps might a pediatrician take to help you and your child?
 
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mom2daughters responded:
Been there DONE THAT! with my oldest now 16.At about ages 13m-2yrs It was awful and of course I was the only one who had to deal with her night terrors. Nobody believe me my child was possessed and that she was responding to me. Although she manages to throw bottles at me scream abuse me basically. All I wanted to do it hug her to calm her but that didnt work. so shutting the door was all I could do and cry and hope she stops. I had to learn the :safe: mode of when I could get her to calm her. I do not miss those days.
 
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guillermoortiz responded:
My son is only 8 and he was having this violent awakenings usually between 2 and 4am, it was mild in the previous house we lived in and he was doing fine in school, now we moved to a new city and school is a bit more challenging for him and this terros as i think you discribed are becoming more persistent and i usually find him standing in middle of bed furious and crying.. i am very concerned as this is progresing. any advise ??
 
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babycam08 responded:
Hi my name is lauren and i could use a little advice. My son is 2 years old and has been having awful night mares or night terrors. They keep getting worse as the months go on to where he has almost fallen out of his bed because he was so scared. i'm a new mom and i don't know what to do about it or if i should talk to his Dr. about it.
 
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janda0108 responded:
Is it normal for a almost 7 month old child to have night terrors? My son will be 7 months soon and he just started screaming after about 20 minutes after I put him to bed. It was very hard to comfort him. It took my husband 20 minutes to calm him down. It was like he wasn't awake while he was screaming. We originally thought that it was his gums bothering him, so I tired to put ice on them (which he normally loves) and he just got more upset. He has never done this before and we are new to parenting. Any adivce would be greatly appreciated!!


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