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Nightmares and Night Terrors

Nothing ruins a good night's sleep quite like a series of nightmares.

For your little one, constant nightmares can keep them avoiding bedtime and making your evening routine a daily battle.

Are these nightmares something to be concerned about? Could they be something worse? How can I soothe my little one during these episodes?

When children experience nightmares or night terrors, they can disrupt your sleep routines and be alarming for parents. Healthy sleep is a science and understanding the difference between nightmares and night terrors can help you soothe your upset child to get them back on track and sleeping soundly. 

Understanding Stages of Sleep

Sleep is complicated! You might think you fall asleep and thats it, but in reality there are five stages that your brain experiences during the night as you sleep. They can usually be divided as Non-REM sleep and REM sleep. 

What is a nightmare?

Everyone gets nightmares, and some people experience them more frequently than others. A nightmare is a lingering thought that has caused the person to become frightened or anxious while they're awake and becomes processed again during periods of deep sleep. These thoughts can be experiences that have actually happened or just a thought that makes your child feel worried or scared. Usually, children can recall their nightmares pretty acurately with a fair amount of detail. Nightmares usually occur during REM sleep, and often happen in the second part of the night. 

When adults experience a nightmare, we wake up and can acknowledge that it was only a bad dream and usually settle our minds. Kids however, have a difficult time separating nightmares from reality and the don't quite understand yet that dreams are just thoughts and can't cause them any real harm. 

What are night terrors?

Night terrors are similar to nightmares in essence, but night terrors create a different type of response. Night terrors aren't exactly a bad dream, they're more a response of fear as your body transitions from one stage of sleep to another. This transition most commonly occurs when your children are transitioning from the deepest part of Non-REM sleep into the lightest stage of REM. Usually the transition is seamless, but sometimes it causes the person to be agitated or frightened where it can be identified as a night terror. The physical reaction of a night terror is scary for parents because it looks like their child is terrified, thrashing violently, screaming or sitting up with their eyes open. In reality, your child won't even remember having experienced this when they wake up the next day. 

These happen more frequently when your kids are overtired, stressed, upset, or sleeping in a different environment. 

After understanding more about the different sleep disruptions, you can better handle night time distress to soothe your child and promote better night's sleep. 

Because stress is a trigger for both nightmares and night terrors, to minimize the chance of either you should utilize relaxation techniques and affirmations each night before bed. Relaxing with a warm bath and a calm story with gentle pictures can help relax the mind and provide a better foundation for sleep. 

If bad dreams are reoccuring, try giving your kids a lavender scented lotion in an unmarked bottle to rub on their feet, face or belly and tell them it's good dream cream and will banish bad dreams. Parents can also give kids a spray bottle with water and a few drops of vanilla extract and let them cleanse their room of bad dreams every night before bed. They might sound silly, but sleep anxiety is very much a psychological obstacle. 

Nightmares and night terrors are often a phase for children to outgrow and require a little more patience from parents. Contact us if you are looking to improve your sleep routines and the quality of your family's sleep through every phase and stage.