It’s heartbreaking when your toddler wakes up afraid, so it’s natural for you to wonder what causes night terrors in toddlers. You might even be scrolling around online looking for tips and tricks for how to stop them. While it’s important to consult your pediatrician about your concerns, there are some home remedies for night terrors in toddlers that can help in the meantime.
These six solutions for night terrors in toddlers may give your child (and you) some relief and a good night’s sleep. But before we look at the solutions for stopping night terrors, we have to understand the causes.
According to the pediatric health system Nemour’s Children’s Health, certain factors tend to contribute to night terrors in kids.
Children who are overtired, sick, or stressed are particularly prone to night terrors. For example, if a child is sleeping away from home (a stressor), not getting enough sleep (overtired), or taking a new medicine (such as a cold medicine if they are sick), that could bring on night terrors. Having caffeine can also cause night terrors, so make sure they aren’t having anything like soda that may contain this stimulant.
There is also a genetic predisposition for night terrors. About 80% of kids who have night terrors have a family member who had also experienced night terrors or sleepwalked.
Night terrors usually happen when a child moves from the deepest stage of non-REM sleep to lighter REM sleep, which is about two to three hours after falling asleep. A night terror is a fear reaction to this transition. Unlike nightmares, night terrors usually happen in the first half of the night, according to Johns Hopkins. Thankfully there are some remedies parents can try to help prevent night terrors.
Since being sleep deprived can cause night terrors according to Mayo Clinic, giving your child an earlier bedtime and doing a sleep hygiene check-up is a good first step. Do they have a regular sleep schedule? Do they need a nap during the day? If they are transitioning out of their nap, this may be a temporary nighttime issue that will pass as they become more rested and sleep longer at night. Just make sure their bedtime is earlier to make up for the lost naptime. Be sure their sleep area is quiet, consistent, and comfortable. Enough sleep is key.
Toddlers sometimes are weaned from falling asleep while drinking milk or falling asleep without being cuddled as they were in infancy, and this change in routine can cause night terrors. Night terrors are often temporary, but make sure that the new bedtime routine is consistent and relaxing, no matter what it is. Quiet activities like reading books or even breathing exercises in bed can help calm them down to get ready for restful sleep. If you don’t already have a consistent bedtime routine that is the same every night, it’s time to start.
What could be the possible stressors in your child’s life right now? Starting daycare or preschool? Parents starting new jobs or fighting? A new baby in the family? Is a grandparent or pet sick? Talk to them about what is bothering them and reassure them about whatever the issues may be. Find books about the topic and read them together, and if it is a big life change like divorce or death, consider counseling.
Look for patterns in which nights your child has night terrors and what happened that day. How many minutes after bedtime does the night terror happen? If it happens every night exactly two hours after bedtime, you may even want to wake them up after 90 minutes to cuddle for a bit so they don’t have the terror and then let them fall back asleep.
When a child wakes with a night terror, they may be flailing and could hit objects and get hurt. Keep doors and windows closed and locked so they don’t sleepwalk away and fall. Keep electrical cords out of the way so they don’t trip. Don’t have them up on the top of the bunk bed and make sure anything fragile is far out of reach.
The best way to deal with a night terror when it happens is just to wait it out. You can cuddle if possible and talk calmly to try to soothe them. The episode will usually stop on its own. Shouting for them to stop to try to snap them out of it will only upset them. Don’t try to wake them, only try to gently soothe them back to sleep.
According to Johns Hopkins, you should contact your child’s healthcare provider if the terrors last longer than 30 minutes, if they are interrupting sleep on a regular basis and if your child does something dangerous during an episode, your child has daytime fears, other symptoms occur with the night terrors, or if you have any other concerns or questions about your child’s night terrors.
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