Nightmares and night terrors are very common but very different.
Nightmares are scary dreams that typically occur during REM sleep, and often during the last part of your child's night sleep. These are common and normal for preschool age kids. Bad dreams can happen as their cognitive skills are still advancing, and their imagination has a hard time processing real from fake.
How to handle nightmares?⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Respond and sooth - always comfort until calm!
Help child feel comfortable in his room - add a nightlight or stuffed animal to ease fears.
Return to your bed. This is critical! It can be tempting to want to sleep with your child or bring him back to your bed. But it is important than you return to your own bed after. Old habits can come back quickly and new habits can start.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Process fears and talk about it together. A bad dream is very real for them. Your child needs to feel heard and empowered. Talking about the bad dream helps process the fear.
Avoid any outside influence or scary tv.
Role play sleeping during the day. Have your child practice closing his eyes and talk about good dreams that can happen.
Turn the bad dream "off" by teaching your child to flip the pillow or flip his body. This method takes practice!
Make a "good dream spray" with calming essential oils. Spray before bed, and repeat as necessary. This one is my favorite!
Night terrors are periods of time in which your child cries, whines, yells, and moves around (even with his eyes open), but they are not actually awake. This can be so alarming because your child can seem incredibly upset and inconsolable. Night terrors happen typically in a transition out of deep sleep and the first sleep cycle, which is a few hours after you've put him to bed.
How to handle night terrors?⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Keep your child safe - sit with your child during a NT episode. It might be worse if you try and wake your child. Generally, night terrors are not something to worry about as they will pass.
Night terrors are triggered by overtiredness. Make sure your child is getting adequate sleep each night so they aren’t as susceptible to these sleep disruptions.
Did you know night terrors are actually genetic? That’s right! Ask your partner or family members if they were prone to sleepwalking, sleep talking or night terrors. As your child grows be on the lookout for these!
Always reach out to your pediatrician if you do have cause for concern.