Tips for Baby Night Terrors
Understanding night terrors for babies and toddlers.
Baby night terrors are a type of sleep disturbance that can occur in young children.
As if sleep deprivation isn’t enough, my introduction to night terrors began one random night when my son woke up screaming, sweating, moaning, and out of breath. While his eyes were wide open, he wasn’t fully awake and wasn’t fully asleep. I consider it a twilight jag of an “in between state”. (Typically, night terrors occur early in the night and may or may not involve sleepwalking.)
I vividly recall trying desperately to comfort my son during his first set of night terrors. I had no idea what was going on, but I quickly realized my attempts to calm him had made him more agitated.
That’s because a child can’t be calmed when they are in the middle of a night terror, and trying to rouse them out of their sleep will make them more confused and agitated.
It is certainly unsettling to watch your child thrash, scream, moan, yell, and cry, and it’s difficult as a parent when we’re not able to comfort them while it’s happening. The reassuring part as parents? Your child probably isn’t going to remember it in the morning, even though you will.
What can parents do if their child experiences night terrors? Here are a few key tips and precautions you can take to provide a safe environment for your child.
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Tips for Baby Night Terrors
1. Make sure your child’s sleep area is safe. When my son reached a certain age that he was getting out of bed, I made sure his floor was clear of anything he could fall on in case he got up during a night terror.
2. Place a gate at the bedroom door to reduce the chance of wandering to the staircase or outside their room.
3. Keep windows secure and safe.
4. Be there to provide physical safety and a calming presence in the room.
5. Use lightweight, breathable pajamas in case your child sweats heavily during a night terror.
6. Read calming books before bed that offer comfort, nurture, and reassurance.
7. Keep a record if your child is prone to night terrors, especially if they are running a fever, are sleep deprived, or are experiencing a stressful life event.
8. Develop a consistent bedtime and wake-up routine.
It’s helpful to remember this difference when it comes to nightmares versus night terrors: a child can be awakened from a nightmare, and may remember it, whereas it is unlikely your child will remember a night terror and it is difficult to awaken them from it.
If night terrors are causing significant sleep disruption in your child, speak with your healthcare provider. Children go through many phases and as parents we guide them through it all. As with all parenting moments, we can use the tough moments to deepen the bonds with our children through nurture, comfort, and reassurance.
We’re all in this together, so let us know if your child has experienced baby night terrors and how you manage it.
Linda Scruggs RN, BSN serves as a resource for parents in the digital space, creating helpful health and wellness content. She has specialized for over 12 years in reproductive medicine, and family and women's health as a nurse. A mom of two young children, her work can be seen on her own blog via her site, lindascruggs.com, as a contributor to The Huffington Post, and created the patient education program in one of the top fertility centers in the country. Linda is all about empowerment in motherhood and would love to connect.