1. home
  2. baby care
  3. baby sleep
  4. Expert Panel
  5. Could he be having nightmares? It is happening every night
Avatar Member
Could he be having nightmares? It is happening every night

HI Maree,
Our 25 month old has been a great sleeper since 3 months. Approx 2months ago we transferred him into a "big bed" and he has been fantastic up until the past two weeks. He started waking at between 12 - 1pm screaming & crying and has been very difficult to console & settle down again. It is almost as though he is not quite awake when this is happening. Could he be having nightmares? We have in the past week had a second baby but this behaviour started before the baby arrived but in the past week it is happening every night. HELP!!!!!
Regards, Michelle.

Maree...
Answer: Hi Michelle, I think this may well be a case of jealousy but I will attach some information for you on night terrors just the same. Cheers, Maree

Night Terrors and other Sleep Disturbances

nightmares; bad; dreams; sleepwalking; sleep; walking; talking; night; terrors; parasomnias; head; banging; rocking; starts; jerks; muscle; teeth; tooth; grinding; grind; bruxism; sleepwalk; walk; Many children have times when their sleep is disturbed because of nightmares, night terrors or sleepwalking. Night terrors may be called sleep terrors, because they can happen during any sleep, such as a daytime nap. Any sudden change in the pattern of a child`s sleep may be triggered by something stressful happening in her life, but these sleep disturbances can happen when there are no new stresses. Children are more likely to have disturbed sleep if other people in the family have also had sleep disturbances. Nightmares
  • Nightmares are frightening dreams which wake children up and leave them feeling upset and scared that something awful has happened or is going to happen.
  • Nightmares happen during `dreaming` sleep, and most dreaming sleep happens towards the end of the night, so children usually wake with nightmares in the second half of the night.
  • On waking from a nightmare, a child will know that you are there, and usually be able to tell you what has frightened him if he is old enough to be able to put it into words.
Night Terrors Night terrors happen less often than nightmares, and can sometimes seem like nightmares, but they are different in several ways. Up to 3% of children experience night terrors at some time.
  • Night terrors do not happen during dreams. With night terrors, children are unable to remember any bad dream or to tell their parents what is frightening them, and in the morning they will not remember that anything has happened.
  • Night terrors usually happen in the early part of the night, often about 1 to 2 hours after the child has gone to sleep.
  • It seems that a child almost wakes up, but does not completely wake (a `partial wakening`). After a nightmare, children fully wake up and cry until you come to them.
  • During an episode of night terrors, children can cry, shout or sometimes scream, but do not know that you are there.
  • A child may be sitting in bed or be out of bed, with eyes wide open, calling for you, but she does not `see` you and may push you away if you try to comfort her.
  • She is likely to have a rapid heart rate, be breathing fast, and be sweaty, crying, shouting, or even screaming or groaning.
  • She may continue to cry or shout for a few minutes, sometimes up to 20 minutes, and rarely, for an hour or longer.
  • Then, quite suddenly she will relax, maybe look around briefly and go quickly back to sleep.
  • These awakenings often happen for several days in a row, sometimes longer, and then go away for a while. They may come back when the child is unwell, overtired or stressed.
  • Most parents will have been woken up during the night just as they became deeply asleep. They would have felt terrible, almost ill, if they had to get out of bed - this may be similar to the feelings of night terrors.
What Causes Night Terrors?
  • The cause of night terrors is not known, but having night terrors runs in families (it seems to be inherited). Usually there are other people in the family who have had night terrors, or sleepwalking or sleep talking.
  • Night terrors usually start happening when a child is around 4 to 7 years old (sometimes younger) and may happen off and on until the child reaches puberty. It is unusual for them to happen in older teenagers or adults.
  • Night terrors seem to happen more often when there is a stressful event such as starting school, but often there is no obvious stress in the child`s life.
  • Sometimes they occur on nights when a child is unwell.
  • They often seem to happen when a child is not getting enough sleep.
  • Some people have linked night terrors to developmental stages in children`s lives, such as toilet training, but many others do not think these are linked.
  • Having night terrors is not linked to having psychological problems later in life. They seem to be a temporary `phase` which children grow out of.
What to do About Night Terrors? Even though he may not let you comfort him, you need to go to your child, make sure that he is safe, and stay with him until he can relax back into sleep.
  • Talking gently and touching or cuddling him may help him become calm, but if this causes him to be more distressed, just sit nearby.
  • If he is doing something unsafe, such as climbing onto furniture, you do need to stop him, even if he fights you.
  • You do not have to make him wake up, or shout at him. Trying to wake a child may make him more agitated. Just let him go back to sleep when he calms down.
  • Don`t talk with him about the night terrors the next day. He will not remember then, but may be very embarrassed and worried about them.
  • Some people have suggested trying planned waking for about a week.
  • Since the night terrors tend to start around the same time each night, go to him about 10 to 15 minutes before then.
  • Rouse him a little so that he is almost awake, talk to him, perhaps take him to the toilet or give him a small drink of water.
  • After about 5 minutes, let him go back to sleep.
  • This might change his sleep pattern enough so that he does not have the partial wakening later in the night.
  • Think about what is happening in his life and see if there is anything that might be stressful and could be changed. This may not have an effect, but it is worth thinking about.
  • If your child is not getting enough sleep, try to get him into a better sleep routine.
  • Work out how to take care of yourself. It is very distressing being woken by a child whom you cannot comfort.
  • Remember that night terrors are much more upsetting to watch than they are to experience. Children do not have any memory of what has happened, and do not suffer any psychological harm from them.
  • Remember also that night terrors are not a sign of mental health problems.
  • Talk to other people in your family and see if there is a family pattern.
  • Talk to your neighbours about what is happening, so that you do not have to worry about what they may think about your child screaming during the night.
Night terrors usually go away within a week or so, but if they persist, talk to your doctor. It is common for them to come back several times until your child is older.
Answered: 22 Feb 2008