What causes night terrors in toddlers?

If you have ever experienced someone else having a night terror, you were probably quite distressed by what you saw. Much worse than a nightmare but very different, night terrors are difficult to be woken up from.

Read on to learn how to recognise night terrors in toddlers, what to do if a child is having them and what the causes are.

What is a night terror?

A night terror is similar to a very bad nightmare but the person having it cannot be easily comforted or woken up. It is more like a reaction of fear which occurs between stages of sleep.

A child having a night terror might scream and thrash their arms and legs about – and when you go to comfort them, they may not appear to recognise you at all. You can recognise night terrors in children as they may sit up in bed and shout out loud.

One year old baby crying
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Children can have a raised heartbeat and may look sweaty during night terrors.

It is quite disturbing for a parent to see this happening as there isn’t much they can do until the child comes out of the terror in their own time – usually a few minutes – but they are not usually a cause for concern.

Who suffers from night terrors?

Night terrors are most common in young children aged between 2 and 8 but babies and adults can suffer too. Luckily, people who suffer them don’t recall night terrors as they tend to happen during deep sleep.

They can occur frequently and more than once a night.

A tiny new born child crying sadly
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What causes night terrors?

Night terrors are different from toddler nightmares, and can be triggered by a whole host of things; generally anything that wakes a child up in their deepest stage of sleep. It could be that they are anxious or excited about something or simply that their bladder is full.

The chancers of night terrors are increased depending on how much sleep the child is getting. New medication may be affecting them or they may be suffering a high fever.

How to treat night terrors

There are few things you can do if you think your child is having night terrors. But the key thing to do is stay calm as they can be distressing to watch, especially in very young children.

You should never try to wake the child during an episode but a good thing to do is ensure they are safe. Put a blanket around their head and make sure they don’t hit the cot bars with their arms or legs.

If your child is old enough to talk, you could try talking to them about their worries when they wake up in the morning, to see if anxiety has built up over something that could be easily remedied.

toddler crying
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A good thing to do is to set a consistent bedtime routine that is simple and relaxing, so the child gets to know what is expected before bed. This could be a familiar story, warm bath, milk and then sleep.

Now you know how to recognise when your child is having a night terror, and why this happens, hopefully you can reduce the chances of it happening in future. If you are worried your child seems to be having night terrors frequently you can always visit your GP for further advice.