Night terrors in toddlers can be unsettling for both you and them. Get the low down on what these are, what’s causing them, and some possible solutions.
Sleep like a baby? Mmm.
That may not be as peaceful a picture as we’ve been led to believe.
One reason your little one might not be sleeping through the night is night terrors.
And while that might sound alarming, night terrors in toddlers are relatively common and usually nothing to worry about.
That being said, babies and sleep don’t always mix so well, and getting your little one to nod off isn’t always the easiest thing.
After all, there’s a reason parents have been singing lullabies over cribs for so long!
Because sleep is so important to you and your peanut, let’s explore what exactly night terrors are, how they might affect your toddler, and what you can do to help.
In this article: 📝
- What are night terrors?
- What are the symptoms and signs of night terrors?
- What causes night terrors in toddlers?
- How do you stop night terrors in toddlers?
- Does my little one need to see a doctor for their night terrors?
What are night terrors?
Basically, a night terror — also called a sleep terror — is an episode of screaming, flailing, and fear experienced during sleep.
They can last anywhere from a couple of seconds to a few minutes.
They’re classified by experts as a type of parasomnia.
These are a broad range of sleep-related disruptive disorders that include sleepwalking.
Night terrors are intense episodes and can be frightening for you and your little one.
They’re also surprisingly common in toddlers and not really a cause for lasting concern.
The good news is that usually, like most stages of childhood, your little one should outgrow them.
So, a night terror is basically a nightmare then?
The basic symptoms of a night terror might strike most of us as similar to those of a nightmare (which we’re probably — unfortunately — all familiar with).
But there are some important differences.
Whereas nightmares affect both children and adults, night terrors mainly affect children, typically between the ages of three and eight.
But there’s no hard and fast rule for this.
Your two-year-old might also be waking up with night terrors.
Another difference to consider is when the episode happens.
Night terrors usually happen in the earlier part of the night, while nightmares tend to happen later, during the REM (that’s Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep.
And although — as some of us might know all too well — we can often remember the details of nightmares, your little one probably won’t have any memory of their night terror.
It’s also worth noting that a night terror is not the same as sleep paralysis.
A tell-tale sign of sleep paralysis is an inability to move or speak as you wake up or fall asleep.
What are the symptoms and signs of night terrors?
Here are some more common symptoms of night terrors that you can keep a lookout for.
During a night terror, your little one might experience:
- Screaming or shouting
- Sitting upright in bed
- Wide-eyed staring
- Kicking and thrashing. If your toddler is flailing in bed, then they might be having a night terror.
- Sweating, heavy breathing, and a racing pulse
- Confusion. If your little one seems not to realize you’re in the room, or if they’re unresponsive to your attempts to comfort them, then this could also be a sign of a night terror.
Fortunately, these symptoms are usually only brief and might only last a few minutes in total.
But it might take a bit longer before your little one is suitably calm enough to go back to sleep.
What causes night terrors in toddlers?
There is no definitive answer as to what causes night terrors in toddlers.
One thing we do know is that night terrors in toddlers are linked to an over-arousal of their central nervous system during sleep.
Basically, their bodies go into high alert at the very time they should be their most relaxed.
It’s also a condition that may run in families with a history of sleep disruptions, including sleepwalking.
Then, there are some other factors that could be contributing to their terrors. These include:
Unfortunately, if your little one is already struggling to sleep, this can trigger night terrors.
Too much caffeine
Too much caffeine can really disrupt your little one’s sleep.
Consider what’s in your toddler’s diet.
Opting for homemade foods can give you greater control over the ingredients in the food they eat.
And if that’s not something you can fit into your schedule, reading the labels of the foods they’re eating is a great alternative.
Disrupted sleep routines
If you’re on vacation or visiting family, the unfamiliar room may trigger night terrors.
Or perhaps you’ve moved them into a new bed or bedroom.
Although graduating to a new bed is an important stage in growing up, these changes to routine can impact their sleep quality.
If your toddler is feeling unwell, you might find they’re more susceptible to night terrors.
If your little one is taking a new medicine for another ailment, this might affect their sleep.
How do you stop night terrors in toddlers?
Although night terrors can be distressing for both you and your little one, the good news is that there’s really very little to worry about.
When it comes to knowing how to stop night terrors in toddlers, usually, the best approach is to wait patiently and help your child settle down once the episode passes.
Normally, night terrors in toddlers will get better on their own.
And in the meantime, here are some other things you can do to try to help:
Try to have a relaxing bedtime routine
This is good advice for both toddler and mama!
A bedtime routine can help your little one begin to recognize when it’s time for them to start getting ready to drift off to the land of nod.
One thing to remember as part of this routine is to try to keep the same wake-up time each day too.
Create a safe environment for your little one to sleep in
If your little one has been having night terrors, try to create a safe sleeping space for them.
If they do begin thrashing, then it would be good to move anything in the vicinity that has the potential to injure them.
Try to avoid overtiredness
OK, not always possible, but we do what we can.
Establishing a good bedtime routine may help with this in the longer term.
In the short term, it might be useful to try and help your little one get enough sleep during the day.
Naps for the win!
Be on hand for when they wake up
Your little one won’t have any memories of the night terror, but they will probably wake up disorientated, confused, and even frightened.
One of the best things you can do is to be there, offering comfort and reassurance.
Tell them that everything is OK, give them a cuddle, and help them get relaxed and ready to go back to sleep.
Try to create a peaceful, distraction-free sleeping environment
Try to avoid too many screens or electronic lights and noises in the same room as your little one is sleeping.
Does my little one need to see a doctor for their night terrors?
Because night terrors are actually quite common in toddlers, more often than not, there’s little need to consider professional medical advice.
Although they are distressing to experience, your little one’s night terrors are likely a phase they will grow out of.
That being said, if they’re suffering from persistent or severe night terrors, you may want to talk to a medical professional for further advice.
They can help you decide whether you would like to be referred to a sleep specialist.
And if you need some support along the way, touch base with your Peanut community.
We don’t have to do this alone. ❤️