5 Signs Your Toddler is Having a Night Terror
If your child wakes up overnight crying - maybe even screaming bloody murder - are they having a night terror?
I get this question all the time.
In most cases, that’s not actually what’s going on.
Even if the screaming or crying is intense. Very intense.
Night terrors only occur in 3% - 6% of kids.
So, what does a true night terror actually look like?
Kids wake instantly from a dead sleep. They may be screaming, crying, yelling and saying awful things like “STOP!” and “NO!”. They may be thrashing around in the bed or even walking around. They look distraught and scared and, the worst part is, they don’t seem reassured if you come in the room.
I can tell you this from personal experience because my older daughter had night terrors for a few years. It’s the closest thing to seeing the exorcist in real life.
There are a few reasons that your child may be waking up overnight - night terrors, nightmares or just bad sleep habits. Families often confuse these three.
So, let me tell you the 5 signs your toddler or preschooler is having a night terror.
Look at the clock. Night terrors happen in the first half of the night, typically before midnight when kids have been asleep for 2 to 3 hours.
Is it happening frequently? Most kids who experience night terror have them at least a few times in their early childhood or maybe even as frequently as a few times a week. Night terrors typically happen around the same time each night. My daughter’s were always around 10:15pm.
Is your child comforted by you? When kids are having a night terror, they appear awake but they’re not. They are in a state in between sleep and wakefulness. So they will not know if you come to the room to calm them down. They will likely not be calling your name although they may be saying things like “help!” or “stop!” They will continue the scary behavior regardless of what you do or say.
Any other strange nighttime behavior? Night terrors and sleepwalking are commonly linked together. If your child experiences one, they are much more likely to experience the other at some point. My daughter was also a sleepwalker.
Do they remember? Kids may remember if they have a scary dream overnight but they will not remember having a night terror. Just like sleepwalking, unless the child is woken up during the night terror, they will have no memory of it. This will seem crazy because of the horrifying behavior you saw. But they really won't remember it!
Now you know what a true night terror looks like.
So, if it sounds like your child is experiencing a night terrors what should you do?
In the moment when the night terror is happening, you have two jobs.
Keep them safe and do not wake them up.
When you hear it start, watch on the monitor or go in their room and keep an eye on them. Make sure they can’t injure themselves by walking into furniture or knocking something off a shelf. You can gently guide them back to their bed. But do not try and wake them up to get them out of it. It will be much more jarring and distressing to them to be awakened in this state than if you just let it pass naturally. So, try and guide them back to their bed and you’ll be surprised to see them fall back to sleep as quickly as it started.
Scientists aren’t totally sure what causes night terrors and in most cases, kids mature out of them before puberty. But there is evidence to show that they occur more frequently in kids who are overtired - meaning kids who aren't getting enough sleep. An earlier bedtime can help greatly at reducing the occurrences of night terrors in my experience. Moving bedtime even :15-minutes earlier can help. Also make sure that kids are sleeping through the night for 10-12 hours straight without waking up. This ensures they’re getting the proper amount of sleep which helps them transition through their sleep cycles seamlessly. This is what makes kids Awesome Little Sleepers.
If you need help figuring out how to make that happen, let me help you. I promise it won't be as difficult as you might think and it only takes a week or two. So, if you're ready to stop grasping at straws and finally get a game plan for sleep, reserve your spot in an upcoming free Toddler Sleep Masterclass. >>CLICK HERE<<