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Nightmares and night terrors in children

Nightmares and night terrors can be worrying for parents I know, but they are almost never associated with any psychological distress or emotional problems in the child - so try and not worry about them too much.

Any child can suffer with nightmares, whereas night terrors normally start in slightly older children and occur earlier in the night.

Here's a quick snapshot of the main differnces...

Night terror

  • Occurs during NREM sleep usually early in the night.

  • Child will usually cry scream or yell in sleep, but can thrash or hit which can be concerning for parents.

  • Usually children aged 3-5.

  • Try to stick to a regular bedtime and work on sleep hygiene. Try and prevent overtiredness as this can make it worse.

You may notice your little one may start to have night terrors around the time they start toilet training and they can occur just before they have a wee at night. So you can try lifting them to the toilet before the usual time this happens to see if that helps.


  • Occur during REM sleep usually in the later part of the night.

  • Usually a frightening and vivid dream.

  • Can affect all children, but can be more common in times of stress or change.

  • Lots of reassurance and sometimes a red night light can be helpful.

With nightmares, though they’re nothing to be concerned about, there’s definitely some things that can help and some that can perpetuate the problem.

You may notice your child suffers more at times of stress or great change, try and offer lots of reassurance to help them through.

Some practical things you can do to help with nightmares

  • Check for anything that may be casting a scary shadow on the walls.

  • Ask if there’s anything they want to be taken out of the bedroom.

  • Try and normalise the experience, maybe sympathise that you have nightmares sometimes too.

  • If it’s happening a lot then you could try a dream catcher and explain how this works or create a ‘magic spray’ which you spray before they go to bed made up of just water and something calming like lavender oil and add some glitter for fun!

  • Make sure they know they can come find you if they’re mobile and are scared by a bad dream. Just knowing they have permission to do this may me enough to calm them.

  • Try not to encourage checking for monsters or scary things under the bed, this reinforces the chance they may actually exist.

  • Don’t force then to try and recall the bad dream, wait and see if they want to talk about it.

If you’d like some support with your little ones sleep, please do check out my sleep support packages, or hop on your free 15 minute introductory call. Or in the meantime, head over to my Instagram page for all my latest free help and tips.

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