Night Terrors

We experienced our first night terror last week. It was pretty awful, mainly because I had no idea what was going on, or how to deal with it. I was completely unprepared. So what are night terrors and what should you do if your toddler has one?

What is a night terror?

Night terrors are different from nightmares. Night terrors usually happen about 2 or 3 hours after a child falls asleep, when sleep moves from the deepest stage of non-REM sleep to lighter REM sleep. The NHS says that night terrors occur between the ages of 3-8. However other websites* state that they have been reported as young as 18 months. (LJ is almost 2).

What does a night terror look like?

During a night terror your little one may open their eyes, talk or even walk about but they aren’t fully awake. They may scream, thrash, and be unable to recognise you. All pretty scary stuff. Although as the parent a night terror is upsetting and distressing to witness, your toddler will often recover quickly and be able to fall back to sleep easily.

LJ was stood up in her cot, with her eyes open when I went into her room. Her crying intensified when I picked her up, I was unable to comfort her. She seemed confused, like she didn’t know where she was. She also seemed panicked and was trying to tell me something. At times her eyes were rolling (similar to when a very tired baby falls to sleep). After a lot of cuddling she calmed down and fell asleep very quickly and deeply.

What should I do if my toddler has a night terror?

I did the one thing that you’re advised not to do; I tried to wake her. I think that definitely made things worse for her. The NHS suggests that you should try the following;

  • Try to wait for the terror to pass, waking them could be more distressing
  • If the terrors become frequent, occurring at the same time every night, try to wake your toddler 10-15 minutes before for 7 days to disrupt the sleep pattern.
  • Make sure your child is safe from injury, hold and cuddle them if possible.
  • Try to avoid your child becoming overtired or over-excited as this could increase the possibility of a night terror.

Unfortunately night terrors are just one of those unpleasant things that can happen. My top tip for dealing with them is to remain calm. As in all situations, a child can detect panic in your voice, which will in turn make them panic. Keep a calm voice, speak to them, give them reassurance ‘mummy’s here’ / ‘you’re okay’ and lots of cuddles.


Photo credit: The Moon: By my dad


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