Nightmares + Night Terrors

A helpful guide to telling them apart...


What is a nightmare?

  • This is a bad dream and typically happens in the middle of the night/early morning and take place REM sleep (dreaming time)

  • They typically start around the age of two and are often brought on by a change in routine, schedule, from reading a scary book, watching a scary film or from something upsetting.

  • These can be remembered and recalled in the morning and can make your toddler fearful

  • The best way to resolving the nightmare is to look for its CAUSE.

What do I need to do?

  • Make sure your little one is getting a good amount of sleep as overtiredness can often play a part. Are they having day sleep, ideally we want to keep that lunchtime nap if we can, then look at their overnight sleep, how many times are they waking during the night?

  • Take a look at their sleep environment. Is it conducive to a good nights sleep? Check room temp, darkness, white noise, scary shadows, anything that makes them uncomfortable? A great way to check this is to set the room the way you would for sleep, and lay there yourself, and see if you can pick out anything that might not be to their liking (especially if they can vocalise this to you themselves).

  • Make time for being PRESENT - this is truly 1 on 1 time for you/you partner and your little one with no distractions (phones away, laptop down, TV off) - we have all been there many many times, it's so easy to get caught up in what your doing - all focus is on playing together. You could play games, colour, build fortes. The main aim is to be PRESENT fully present, filling up that 'love tank', building on their sense of safety, security and confidence. 10/20 minutes a day makes a difference. A perfect time to do this is usually between dinner being finished and starting your bedtime routine.


  • These typically occur during the first part of the night this is when they are in stages (3/4 NREM) often the deepest phase of sleep.

  • It's unusual to see them in toddlers under the age of two, its usually two years plus.

What does a night terror look like?

  • Sudden, tense crying or screaming

  • May appear flushed, they may sweat, have increased breathing & heart rate and appear or become agitated.

  • Eyes may be open and your child may seem awake or may even respond, however they are still asleep.

  • Calming attempts often are not responded to (inconsolable)

  • They are also hereditary - your little one is 10 times more likely to get them if you or your parents suffered with them.

The 'good' news is that your little one doesn't usually remember them, unlike a nightmare.

The main element with night terrors is prevention. This is because it is far easier to prevent one rather than stop to stop them from happening.

According to paediatricians, there is no quick fix for sleep terrors. Usually time and lots of P (patience). Below I will put some tips to help prevent them.

If your child is having a night terror: DO NOT TRY TO WAKE THEM UP!

This will only prolong the occurrence and severity of the episode. Stick close by so you can prevent your child from hurting themselves,

but don’t touch or try to console them. (As hard as it is to sit idly by, it’s what you must do).

What can I do to prevent them?

  • If your child has started having night terrors, be sure to make an appointment with your doctor/paediatrician. Your child could be suffering from enlarged tonsils or adenoids, or even have sleep apnea. Your doctors can do the appropriate tests and rule out any of the above.

  • Make sure your little one is getting enough sleep. Are they having day sleep, ideally we want to keep that lunchtime nap if we can, then look at their overnight sleep, how many times are they waking during the night?

  • Ensure you have a consistent routine, if you don't have one already, now is a great time to create one. Especially at bedtime (even on weekends) - It’s important to calm kid’s bodies down so that they can sleep peacefully. Have you ever went to bed super stressed and noticed that when you wake up you still feed tired and tense? Helping kids relax and unwind before sleep is very important.

  • Increase their vitamin B & D, and increase intake of magnesium-rich foods, these are found in green vegetables.

  • Check for dehydration - ensure your child is getting enough water during the day, especially when the weather is warmer.

  • Sickness - this could be a sign that they are getting sick or are they teething? Paediatricians have found that if your child has a fever this can be a potential cause of night terrors.

  • Again take a look at the sleep environment especially the temperature, making sure it's not too hot, between 18-20 degrees is the ideal temp range.


  • If you have tried all of the above and things are getting better but aren't quite resolved try this...

Its called partial arousal or often known as the wake-to-sleep technique -

As we mentioned sleep terrors usually happen either 2 hours after going to bed or 4 hours after. So if your child has a bedtime the incident would start either around 10 o’clock or midnight.

Start by doing check in's on your little one around this time and start to ever-so-slightly arouse them. Not enough so that they wake up, but enough that they roll over and groan a little.

And you might be wondering, “Why would you do this?”

By partially arousing your kids before they switch sleep cycles (before the night terror happens), it can help them NOT get stuck in between sleep cycles because that’s what’s to blame for these horrible sleep terrors.

Hopefully, you have found this guide helpful if you would like more tips on a bedtime routine, your babies sleep environment and how to get them sleeping soundly - check out my 5 Steps to Sleep Success guide below:

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