Almost all children experience nightmares at some point, but night terrors, or sleep terrors, are less common and more unsettling for parents. Captain Darin, can you tell us about these sleep disturbances?
Absolutely, Dr. Patel. Nightmares are simply unpleasant or scary dreams, and children usually start having them during the preschool years when fear of the dark is common. A child may wake up from a nightmare sweating and breathing more rapidly. Nightmares most often occur during the second half of a night's sleep, during a stage of sleep called rapid eye movement, or REM. Most children can remember their nightmares clearly.
Night terrors, on the other hand, usually occur during the first half of a night's sleep. A child with night terrors may seem intensely afraid, and they may scream, cry, or thrash around in their sleep. Despite this dramatic activity, it's typically difficult to awaken them from the episode. When they do wake, they have no memory of the night terror.
Although it's nearly impossible to completely prevent nightmares, there are many things you can do to help your child have more restful sleep. Reducing your child's stress and creating a bedtime routine that's simple and relaxing can help prevent both nightmares and night terrors. It's also a good idea to avoid scary movies, TV shows, and stories before bedtime, and don't let your child stay up too late. Insufficient sleep duration is the most common cause of night terrors and can contribute to more frequent nightmares, so making sure children get the recommended amount of sleep every night is essential.