Nightmares, Night terrors, and Bedtime Fears

Posted by in No-Cry Sleep

Adequate, restful sleep is important for your child’s mood, behavior, health, memory and growth. If there is anything standing in the way of a good night’s sleep it’s important to address the issue and solve the problem. Let’s discuss a few typical sleep disrupters and possible solutions.

Isabelle, 3 yrs and Daddy

Isabelle, 3 yrs and Daddy


Children spend more time dreaming than adults do, so they have more dreams—both good and bad. After a nightmare saying “It was just a dream” to a young child doesn’t explain what they experienced – after all, most kids believe that the tooth fairy and Big Bird are real, too! After a nightmare, offer comfort just as you would for a tangible fear. If your child wakes with a nightmare:

  • Stay with your child until she feels relaxed and ready to go to sleep, or if she’s reluctant to have you leave, stay with her until she is actually sleeping.
  • Be calm and convey that what’s happening is normal and that all is well.
  • Reassure your child that he’s safe and that it’s OK to go back to sleep.

Night Terrors

You will know if your child as a night terror because she will wake suddenly and may scream or cry. Her eyes will be open, but she won’t be seeing. She may thrash around or talk incoherently. She may be sweating or flushed, and may seem scared. However, your child is not really frightened, not awake, and not dreaming. She’s asleep, and in a zone between sleep cycles. A child having a night terror is unaware of what’s happening, and won’t remember the episode in the morning.

During a night terror you may try to hold your child, but often this will result in his pushing you away. The best response is a gentle pat, along with comforting words. If your child gets out of bed, lead him back. If he’s sitting up, guide him to lie back down. Keep an eye on him until he settles back to sleep.

Savannah with her daddy, Shane

Savannah with her daddy, Shane

Nighttime Fears

It’s normal for a child to imagine monsters that generate a fear of the dark. Even if you explain, and even if you assure him that he’s safe, he may still be scared. You can reduce his fears when you:

  • Teach your child the difference between real and fantasy through discussion and book-reading.
  • Find ways to help your child confront and overcome his fears. If dark shadows create suspicious shapes, provide a flashlight to keep at his bedside.
  • Leave soothing lullabies playing, or white noise sounds running to fill the quiet.
  • Give your child one, two, or a whole zoo of stuffed animals to sleep with.
  • Put a small pet, like a turtle or fish, in your child’s room for company.
  • Take a stargazing walk, build a campfire, or have a candlelight dinner to make the dark more friendly.

Preventing Sleep Disrupters

Some things have been found to reduce the number or severity of sleep-disturbing episodes. They are all based on good sleep practices, so they are worth a try:

  • Follow a calm, peaceful routine the hour before bedtime.
  • Maintain the same bed time seven days a week.
  • Avoid books and movies that might frighten your child.
  • Have your child take a daily nap or rest period.
  • Provide your child with a healthy snack about an hour before bedtime. (Avoid spicy food, sugar or caffeine.)
  • Have your child use the potty just before she gets in to bed.
Elias, 5 years and Mommy

Elias, 5 years and Mommy

Is there a time to call a professional?

Trust your instincts. You should always call a professional if you have concerns about your child’s sleep.

Pantley0071444912.qxp:Layout 1Need more tips? The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers is your solution to gentle ways to stop bedtime battles and improve your child’s sleep.

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