Recognizing The Difference Between Nightmares And Night Terrors In Your Child

Just about every person has nightmares at some point in their life, and this common occurrence is not considered to be a sleep disorder. Whether nightmares stem from daytime fears or a scary movie, they can leave a person feeling scared and shaken when they awake. For children, nightmares can be even more frightening, and it is not unusual for them to wake after a bad dream seeking comfort from their loved ones. However, there are times when a nightmare can take on a completely different form that is terrifying for not just the child, but the parents involved as well. Most parents unwittingly mistake night terrors for nightmares, but there are certain indicators that can point to a problem that is far more than just a bad dream.

Telling Symptoms of Night Terrors

When a child has a bad dream, they may wake up scared or crying, but can easily be consoled and lulled back to sleep. Night terrors take on an even more alarming response. Some of the most common symptoms that are associated with this sleep disorder in children include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Heavy breathing
  • Perspiration
  • Child cannot be soothed for long periods of time
  • The child may not be able to recall what they dreamed
  • Volatile movements or thrashing in the bed
  • Recurring accounts of dreams night after night
  • Disruptions in sleep patterns or fear of falling asleep

Some of these symptoms, in milder form, can be noted in children who have nightmares. However, the severity of night terrors is enough to cause alarm to parents and is good reason to seek help from a sleep disorder specialist.

Timing of Bad Dreams Can Give Greater Insight into Diagnosis

Night terrors are experienced at a different point of sleep than the average nightmare. Nightmares are more likely to occur after a child has been asleep for at least 90-120 minutes and has reached what is referred to as REM sleep. On the other hand, night terrors are more likely to occur in the earlier stages of REM sleep. When a child awakens not long after being asleep and is notably terrified or inconsolable, there is a good chance your child is experiencing this sleep disorder.

If you believe that your child is experiencing night terrors, it is imperative that you seek treatment right away. Pediatric physicians can make sure that no other psychological issues are causing the problem and help to refer you to a sleep disorder treatment center, like Billings Clinic, for your child.


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