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Nightmares & Night Terrors

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“Bad dreams” can mean different things for different children and be difficult to deal with. Here are some tips from the experts on how to identify and handle common childhood sleep issues:

  • Nightmares: scary or bad dreams that can make children wake up crying or feeling frightened. They most often occur during the second half of the night.
    • What they mean:
      • Nightmares can sometimes be a result of stress in your child’s life. Be sure to talk to your child about possible stressors.
    • What to do:
      • Reassure them they are safe and stay with them until they calm down
      • Take the opportunity once they are calm to ask them about the nightmare and what happened
      • Once ready, encourage your child to go back to sleep
        • Turn on a night-light if it will help your child feel more comfortable going back to sleep
  • Night terrors: unlike a nightmare, your child will not remember they had a night terror when they wake up. They may scream, cry, thrash about, or stare. They may not recognize you or acknowledge that you are there. They most often occur during the early part of the night.
    • What they mean:
      • Night terrors are not uncommon in young children and are usually outgrown in early childhood.
      • Children are often in no distress as they do not remember the events.
    • What to do:
      • Remain calm! Night terrors can be rather frightening to witness.
      • Try NOT to wake your child and instead keep them safe until they calm down. They will likely fall back asleep shortly.
      • Make sure to inform caregivers that your child has night terrors and make sure to tell them how to respond should one occur.
  • Keep a sleep diary
    • Write down how often your child has sleep issues and bring it to your child’s pediatrician
      • Include nightmares and night terrors and what times they occur
      • Keep track of how much sleep your child is getting and how long it takes them to fall asleep
      • Make note of any recent changes or stressors in your child’s life

Handling nightmares and night terrors can be stressful for families. As always, if you have questions regarding your child’s nightmares or night terrors, please contact your pediatrician. Feel free to check out this link from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/preschool/Pages/Nightmares-and-Night-Terrors.aspx

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