Nightmares And Night Terrors In Toddlers: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment


It is time to appreciate yourself because, you are successful in managing the baby sleep and ultimately you have set up a rock solid bedtime routine for your toddler. When you think that all have figured out and set there comes nightmares and night terrors.

Raising a toddler throws back many more challenges which are very easy to handle if you have a complete overview of them beforehand. Episodes of crying or louder shouts of your toddler may worry you. You may come across many terrifying and heartbreaking incidents which can be suppressed when you are aware of the night mares and night terrors. Scroll down to know more about the symptoms and ways to deal with the nightmares and night terrors in your child.

What are night mares and night terrors?

The most distressing thing is to listen your child making sudden shriek and to see your child sitting on the bed with wide opened eye in the middle of the night. Kids usually start the nightmares and night terrors at the age of 2 years which may peak when they between the age of 3 and 6 years. Here what exactly nightmares and night terrors are that will help you to frame the coping skills in your child.

Nightmares are the scary dreams that usually occur in the second half of the night where the intensity of dreaming is more. Children may wake up crying when they are afraid by the nightmares in the middle of the night. Most of the times child can recall the content of the dream in detail. Nightmares may make the children find the difficulty in going back to the sleep.

According to the studies 10-50% of the children between the ages of 3 and 6 years have the nightmares that are bad enough to disturb the parents.

It is more common for the children to experience the nightmares and is not always the cause of emotional disorder. It is quite common for the children with the vivid imagination to get the nightmares more often.

Night terror is a kind of sleep disruption that is similar to the nightmare. Night terrors may make your child to partially arouse from the sleep and act out with shouts, kicks, and screams as if they are in an intense panic. Children who have the night terrors can not be woken up or comforted and they tend to lose the memory over the events happened in their night terror. The episodes of night terror prevail for the period of 10-30 minutes. After the night terror child goes back to the sleep on their own without any need to be consoled.

How to distinguish between nightmares and night terrors?

• One of the best ways to distinguish the nightmares and night terrors is to observe the behavior of your child. After the nightmare children can remember everything in detail. Night terrors make them completely unaware of the event when they woke up the next day.
• Night terrors can make the child completely unaware of the thing that their parents are in the room. Children reach out the parents after the nightmare to assuage their fears.
• There are two main types of sleep Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM). Nightmare occur during REM and night terrors occur in the non REM.
• Nightmares occur usually in the later part of their sleep, whereas the night terrors occur in the non REM state where your kid try to transition from the state of awake to falling asleep.

Symptoms of nightmare in the children:


The occurrence of the nightmare may vary from rare to frequent or several times during the night. Knowing the symptoms of the nightmares will help the parents to figure out the occurrence. Episodes of nightmares make your child find difficulty in falling back to sleep. Here are a few symptoms of nightmares in children:

• The dreams may seem vivid or sometimes upsetting. Unfolding the dream may make your child feel disturbed.
• the dreams may have disturbing themes like threat to the safety or the survival.
• It may awaken your child
• Your child may encounter the disturbing experiences like scared, angry, anxiety, that usually stem out of the dream.
• Your child may seem sweaty and encounter rapid heart beat.
• Your child can easily recollect the details when they woke up from the dream.
• Distress resulting from the dream make it difficult for your child to go back to sleep.

Nightmares are considered as the Disorders in the following situations:

• If the occurrence is frequent.
• Major distress feelings such as anxiety or fear during the daytime or the anxiety before they go to bed with the fear of getting another nightmare.
• It is time to suspect a disorder, if your child has memory or concentration issues or they can’t stop them from thinking or remembering the images of the dream.
• Sleepiness during the daytime, low energy or fatigue.
• Learning problems at the school or problems at the social situations.
• Behavior problems that are related to the bedtime or the fear of dark.

Causes of nightmares in children:


Here are a few causes of children’s nightmare dreams.

1. Episodes of agony: many things may disturb the growing baby. It is more common for the children to experience the nightmare after watching the scary image or after spending time with the relative whom they feel creepy. Toddlers with the wide range of the imagination are likely to get the nightmares after the scary story. The other common root cause for the nightmares in the toddler is moving away to a new place where they may miss their close friend or the relative.

2. Medication: certain medications may cause the nightmares. In most of the cases, stopping the medicine or changing the dose may yield the good results.

3. Stress and anxiety: the triggers of the stress and anxiety within your child may make the way for the nightmares. These feelings may go away once the child grows up.

4. Tiredness: acute sleep deprivation may lead to fatigue and tiredness. Tiredness can eventually disrupt the sleep and make your child to experience the wake cycles throughout their sleep which may indirectly impact the brain and make it to see the negative images and frame the nightmares.

5. Scary movies and books: for most of the kids reading a scary story or watching the frightening movies before the bedtime may contribute to the nightmares.

Here are some other reasons that cause night mares in toddlers.

Unhealthy and heavy meals before the bedtime: a heavy meals right before the bedtime is one of the reasons for the nightmares in adults. But, there is no clear idea whether it applies to babies, toddlers are also vulnerable to this situation as they consume the solid foods.

Gastroesophageal reflux: Gastroesophageal reflux offer the episodes of uncomfortable situation for the baby. If the condition continues often, may put the baby in the innate fear for sleep making them to have nightmares or the pain associated with the gastric problem is responsible for the nightmares.

How to cure the nightmares in children?

the techniques used to treat the nightmares in toddler may vary depending on their behavior and the reasons. Here are a few ways to treat nightmares in your child.

1. Establish healthy sleep routine:

This is one of the effective ways to treat night mares and night terrors in babies. Getting the quality sleep and having the healthy sleep routine is more important for the healthy mind and the development of your child. Cut down the screen time before they go to sleep and make the time before their bedtime time fun and happy.

2. Give your child a bath:

Bath before the bedtime will help your child to unwind their body. The warm water gives a rise to the temperature artificially. The difference between the room temperature and the body temperature will foster them to have the sound sleep.

3. Offer them a cozy sleeping atmosphere:

Make sure to offer your child enough pillows and blankets that make them feel warm and comfortable. Close the windows and curtains if the room temperature in normal and the child is getting the enough air. Instead of making their bed crowded with many toys, offer them their favorite stiffed animal.

4. Connect your child with a security object:

This is one of the best ways to treat Whether a blanket, pillow, or stuffed animals can help your child feel safe and protected. Clinging to the object when they are awake in the night can help them to soothe themselves and get back to the sleep on their own. Aim for something sift and washable. Purchasing two or three pieces of the same object can help to make one available with them always.

5. Keep their bedtime happy and fun:

Ensure not to make them expose to the scary movies, frightening TV shows, scary music and stories 30 to 60 minutes before the bedtime. Avoid the situations that may push your child into the depression.

6. Discuss the nightmares during the day:

If the nightmares occur everyday to your child with the same theme then there might be something upsetting your child. A child who experience the nightmares will remember them in detail the next morning. Speak to them and get the theme for the consecutive days. If the theme seems to be similar then try to spot the stressors in your child’s life and work with them to reduce the severity of the stressors.

7. Reduce the screen time before sleep:

Children who go to bed are likely to have the nightmares frequently than other kids. 10 to 11 hours of the sleep is required for the school age kids. Interaction with the electronics before the bed time reduces the production of the sleep inducing hormone known as melatonin. So they should be turned off before the bedtime and it is the best time to do some calming activity like going out and watching the stars or reading pleasant story or telling some jokes to laugh.

8. Retrain your child’s brain:

Nightmares may upset the mood of your child. Train your child in such away that they should be able recollect the funny movements so that they can go back to sleep on their own. Try to explain to your child about fantasy and the reality to your child in a logical way.

9. Help them with some prayers or wishes:

If you are religious, make your child to have the prayers before the sleep. Ask them to express the concern they have and wish for the good dreams. This is a great opportunity for you to spot the thing that your child is struggling with. If you are not the religious, ask your child to make the wishes before sleep. For example they could make a wish for the good dreams or the funny day in the classroom.

10. Don’t leave the room dark:

Put on some night light in your child’s room instead of leaving it dark. When your child wake up in the middle of the night with the fear of the nightmare, they could see their room more clearly. You can also keep their room decorated in radium paints to soothe them back to the sleep.

11. Plan a fun activity before the bedtime:

You can make your child to have the good dreams or avoid the nightmares by doing something together with your child that can make them feel secure. Take the help of your child in developing this activity and include it with the daily bedtime routine.

For example, if your child gets the monster in their sleep, then you can help them create a anti monster spray and sprinkle it all around the room before they go to sleep every day. Make your child to do this with spray with water and a few drops of the relaxing essential oil.

12. Respond to the nightmares gently:

The way theta you respond to the nightmares may make them to ease the causes. Listening to their nightmares instead of just ignoring will help you to recognize their terror. Soothe them by cuddling and bringing them more closer to you. If you have the separate room for your child to sleep then stay by their side until they get into the deeper sleep.

Gently tap on their tummy which is the great comforting cue for the children ever.

13. Teach coping skills:

The best way to teach them coping skills is to make them to understand the reality. Help them to realize that the dreams are not going to be the real and it is just an imaginative story created by our minds.

14. Take your child to the therapy:

If none of the methods work to handle the nightmares in your child, choose to seek the professional help. A psychologist or the therapist who can work with their minds can help you to sort out the issue. This method works well incase your child fails to express their fears.

When to see the doctor for nightmares?

Occasional nightmares are usually not the cause of major concern. It is recommended to consult the doctor if the nightmares ;

• Occur frequently
• Likely to disrupt the sleep every time
• Have the fear in going to sleep
• Nightmares accompanied by daytime difficulties with the behavioral problems.

Symptoms of night terrors:


Here are a few signs and symptoms of the night terrors in toddler:

• Fast heartrate and fast breathing
• Your child is likely to sweat in the middle of the night
• Some children will do the things like sitting in the bed, showing some actions, scream, look awake and confused
• They may unaware of the presence of their parent in the room.
• They do not talk or respond to the comforting cues by their parents.

Causes of night terrors:

night terrors may run through the families and are the hereditary in nature sometimes. Here are a few things similar to the nightmares that may cause night terrors in toddlers.

• Stress
• Depression or anxiety
• Fever or the consumption of the too much caffeine before the bedtime
• Sleeping in a new place or the place which is away from home
• Medications that may affect the functionality of the brain
• Restless leg syndrome

There are some other things that cause the night terrors in the sleep and have the ability to distract the brain’s ability to go back to sleep.

Fever in very severe cases may interact with the functionality of the brain resulting in the glitches while transforming from the NREM to REM leading to the night terrors.

Lights or Noise, the baby who sleeps in the harsh lighting with the severe sounds may encounter the episodes of disturbing sleep resulting in the night terrors.

Overfull bladder may cause sleep disturbances resulting in the night terror.

How to Cure night terrors?

Similar to nightmares, night terrors need the assessment and the techniques should be based on the causes:

1. Do not wake the baby: your toddler is not actually dreaming, it is the stage of transition from the awakening to the sleep. Waking the baby at this stage may put your baby in the confusion or they may fail to recognize you. Making the matters wore worse, sometimes they may turn aggressive and violent as their brains are unable to interpret the reality in this condition.

2. Stay calm: make sure that your baby should not fall off the bed or hurt themselves with the terror. Instead of waking them up, be their protector.

3. Wake the baby post the terror: once you feel that terror has passed away and the toddler is calm, you can wake up the baby to access their outward behavior. If you notice any symptoms of the terror in your baby, you can hold them and offer the comfort and security. Ask your toddler how they feels and offer them assurance that everything is fine.

4. Do not talk about their terrors: In the case of terrors, your toddler may not be able to remember them once they woke up the next day. Keep the things regular and keep an eye on the activities which may put them to run into the terror.

Instead of discussing the terror the best thing that you can do is to ask them how they had slept.

5. Keep their day stress free: Stressful situations may put your child to experience the night terrors. Schedule a day with the pleasant and creative activities that will foster the creative corner of their minds. Let your toddler realize that the terrors are not real and keep the things practical to them. Make your child to laugh more throughout the day which can help them to have the sound sleep with the good dreams.

Medical problems that may lead to nightmares and night terrors:

Some medical conditions may allow your child to have the nightmares and the night terrors.

1. Epilepsy: nightmares and night terrors are frequent in the toddlers suffering from the Epilepsy. Neurological problems resulting from the nightmares may affect the sleep. Children who experience the night terrors early in the life are diagnosed with night terrors in their later life.
2. Sleep Apnea: sleep apnea is the congestion in the upper respiratory airways while sleeping. This condition can cause the disturbed sleep resulting in the night mares.


Both the nightmares and night terrors may result in the lack of sleep which in turn adversely effects the growth of the child. This is because of the fact that highest levels of growth hormones are released during the sleep. Several nights of lack of sleep may hamper the immunity of your child.

Help your child to cope with the night mares and night terrors to make sure that they do not affect their day to day life.