Night Terrors in Toddlers
Night terrors in toddlers are relatively rare. They should not be confused with nightmares because a child that had a nightmare is awake and remembers having a bad dream, while toddles with night terrors remain asleep and do not remember anything about it in the morning. Night terrors in toddlers can be very worrying but fortunately, they usually are not a cause of concern and are most often overgrown. They also do not seem to cause any emotional or behavioral problems.
A variety of factors can cause night terrors in toddlers including emotional stress, sleep deprivation and development of imagination in early childhood which can make it difficult for the toddler to distinguish between reality and a dream. Night terrors can also indicate an underlying medical condition, for example sleep apnea but such cases are extremely rare and there is generally no need to be concerned about occasional night terrors.
You can determine whether your child is having night terrors on the basis of the following symptoms:
- appears to be awake but behaves confused and disoriented
- appears frightened and does not recognize you
- screams or shouts
- is extremely difficult to awake and almost impossible to console
- walks in sleep or sits up in bed
- kicks and pushes you away while trying to awake or console him or her
- gets more upset when being consoled
If your child appears to have night terrors, it is crucial to take care for safety measures in order to prevent your toddler injuring himself or herself while having an episode of night terror because he or she is unaware of his or her actions. Make sure that you lock all exterior doors and close the windows, especially if your toddler is sleep walking and keep all sharp and potentially dangerous objects out of reach to your child. You should also consider installing bells on the interior doors to be able to hear if your child is sleep walking.
Stay with your child when having a night terror to make sure that he or she does not injure himself or herself. Do not shake him or her and do not shout because you can make the episode worse and your child even more confused. Stay calm and talk softly or do not talk at all because sometimes it is better to just wait for the night terror to pass.
If the night terrors tend to repeat, try to establish the pattern and keep a sleep diary to determine whether they tend to occur about the same time. If so, wake up your child few minutes before expecting an episode, keep him or her awake for few minutes and then let him or her fall back asleep. Repeat for several nights and then wait to see if the night terrors will stop. If they do not or if they disturb your child’s sleep, cause daytime sleepiness, become more frequent or intense, or make your child afraid of going to sleep, please contact your doctor.
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