... Night terrors and nightmares are very different.
Night terrors usually occur in the first third of the night. The typical scenario is a child wakes up a few hours after going to sleep, acting like she is possessed. She may scream, shake, point at things and call out, "No! No! I can't!" She may not be comforted by you and may not even recognize that you are in the room. Reassure her, "You're ok. Mommy is here." Keep lights dim and speak softly. She should easily go back to sleep after the episode. The next morning she won't remember the event, although everyone else in the house will.
What can you do to break the cycle? Since night terrors generally occur around the same time every night, try waking your child up about 15 to 30 minutes prior to the episode. This will break her sleep cycle and her body will jump into the next stage of sleep when the terrors don't occur. Also, make sure your child is not over-tired. Stress and tiredness can contribute to night terrors. Put her to bed a little earlier at night or make sure she gets a nap if she still needs one. Most children outgrow night terrors as they get older.
Nightmares typically happen during the second half of the night. Almost everyone has had a nightmare at some point. You're riding your bike at the beach and then all of the sudden a large wave is crashing down on you….you thrash around in your bed trying to get some air until you wake up scared or somebody comforts you. A child with nightmares will wake up fully and respond to parental comforting. He may remember the dream, even the next day. Reassurance helps this resolve. Talk to him about the dreams and explain that they are not real. Take a look at his environment (school, home, etc.) and see if there is anything bothering him. Stress from the day, school or sports, life changes such as moving or divorce can all cause stress that leads to nightmares. Scary books, movies, stories from friends or on-line can also contribute.
To help prevent nightmares, get into a healthy sleep routine. Put your child or teen to bed about the same time every night. Avoid eating, exercise, watching TV, surfing the Internet, reading scary books or watching movies right before bed. Have your child sleep with a stuffed toy or favorite blanket as this may help them feel more secure. This works for teens too! Turn on a night light and keep his door open. Talk to your pediatrician if the nightmares persist.
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