Nightmares Vs. Night Terrors_ Helping Your Child Through Scary Dreams

Nightmares Vs. Night Terrors_ Helping Your Child Through Scary Dreams

Dreams usually feel like movies curated specially for us by our subconscious mind. While in most cases they tend to be entertaining, there are times when they take the scary route. And, in children, bad dreams at night can shake them up, disrupting their slumber.

Now having nightmares or bad dreams while sleeping is quite common in children. About 10% to 50% between the ages of three to six have them. But on the other hand, you have night terrors, which are different from a regular scary dream.

Ahead, we bring you everything you must know about night terrors vs nightmares and how you can help your child overcome them.

What Are Nightmares?

We have all had at least one scary dream, which has woken up with a fright. These dreams evoke a variety of negative emotions like anger or disgust and can be extremely upsetting when you wake up. They can even make you feel frightened, anxious, or sad. These dreams are known as nightmares.

In children, nightmares might wake them up crying and even make it difficult for them to go back to sleep.

However, nightmares are a normal part of growing up and can be caused by stress, changes, or fears. Therefore, it is important that you comfort your child and let them know they are safe.

What Are Night Terrors?

As aforementioned, night terrors or sleep terrors are different when compared to nightmares. They are episodes of intense fear during sleep, where your child might scream, thrash, or seem very upset.

During night terrors, your child may not be fully awake and usually doesn't remember the episode in the morning.

The Difference between Night Terrors vs Nightmares

Here are the major differences between nightmares vs night terrors. Take a look!

Night Terrors Nightmares
Occurrence Happens in the early part of the night, often within the first few hours of sleep. Usually occurs during the later part of the night.
Sleep Stage Night terrors occur during deep sleep or Non-REM Sleep. Occur during REM sleep, when most dreaming happens.
Prevalence 1-6% of children experience night terrors 10% to 50% of children have them.
Awareness The child is not fully awake and is difficult to comfort. The child is fully awake after the nightmare and can be comforted.
Memory The child usually has no memory of the terror episode the next day. The child can clearly remember the nightmare and what it was about.
Behaviour The child may scream, thrash around, and appear very frightened but is not actually awake. The child may wake up scared, cry, or call for a parent, but is aware of their surroundings.
Duration They usually last a few minutes. The duration of a nightmare can vary, but nightmares generally last a shorter time and end when the child wakes up.
Common Causes They are often caused by stress, overtiredness, or fever. They are commonly caused by stress, anxiety, or scary experiences during the day.
Frequency Night terrors are less common and tend to decrease as the child grows older. Nightmares are common and can occur at any age.
Peak Age Sleep terrors usually occur in children between the ages of 4 and 12 years of age, and can peak between the ages of 5 and 7. However, night terrors in babies are also possible. Nightmares can occur in children as young as 6 months old but tend to peak between the ages of 3 and 12 years.
What to do? You must take care of the child's safety and avoid trying to wake them. Comforting is usually not effective during the episode. You should comfort and reassure your child and help them calm down.
Common Themes Common themes are not specific as children don't usually remember them. Being chased or lost and injury or death are a few common themes.

Causes of Night Terrors vs Nightmares

Now that you know the difference between night terrors vs nightmares, let’s look at the causes of night

1. Night Terror

  • Feeling extremely stressed, worried or anxious
  • Not getting enough slumber as they must
  • Having an irregular sleep schedule
  • Being sick or suffering from a fever
  • Experiencing big changes like starting school or moving to a new house
  • Too much excitement or screen time before going to bed
  • May have a family history of night terrors
  • Changes in sleep environment may be the reason

2. Nightmares

  • Feeling scared, worried or anxious about something
  • Experiencing something difficult or upsetting
  • Watching scary movies or hearing something scary
  • Big changes in life like starting school or moving to a new home
  • Children having an overactive imagination or thinking of something scary before bed
  • Uninterrupted sleep, uncomfortable sleeping position or having trouble sleeping
  • Being sick can sometimes cause nightmares
  • Eating a heavy meal or extremely spicy food before bed
  • Certain medications can also cause nightmares
  • It can be genetics

When Should You See A Doctor?

You must see a doctor if the frequency and severity of nightmares or night terrors have gone up. Remember, an episode once in a while can be common. But if it is disrupting your child's daily functioning, it is a problem.

Also, make sure that you keep an eye on any other symptoms they may experience. If you notice any other concerning symptoms, talk to your doctor right away.

Finally, you can simply consult your doctor to understand more about these sleep disorders and how you can manage them with ease. Having professional advice will always steer you in the right direction.

Wrapping Up

This was everything about night terrors vs nightmares. Remember, they are a common occurrence in children and nothing to worry about. But if you think the severity is going up, seek treatment right away.

That said, you must also take care of other elements that make way for such sleep disorders like an uncomfortable sleeping environment or an uncomfortable bed.

One of the primary necessities of sound sleep is a good bed paired with a comfortable mattress. When it comes to children, they need something curated just for them, keeping their requirements in mind. This is where Smart Baby Mattress and Smart Kids Mattress come into the picture.

Using the patented SmartGrid Technology, these mattresses are designed to ensure healthy development in children and help them enjoy a happy sleep. Some of the features of the Kids range mattresses by The Sleep Company are:

  • 100% waterproof
  • Firm feel
  • 10 years warranty
  • Designed with SmartGrid
  • 2500+ air channels for breathability

Now is the perfect time to upgrade your child's sleep with Smart Kids Mattress designed for peaceful nights and sweet dreams.

Related Blogs:


1. What Causes Nightmares in Children?

Nightmares are quite common in children, and they tend to grow out of them as they grow older. Some of the most common causes include stress and anxiety, watching or hearing something scary, irregular or uncomfortable sleep, genetics, medications and more. However, if you are worried, it is always advised to talk to your healthcare practitioner once.

2. How to Prevent Scary Sleeps?

Scary dreams can make your child fearful of sleep, which is something you don't want. So, here are a few tips to prevent scary sleep in children.

  • Monitor and limit their screen time
  • Talk to them about their fears
  • Create a comfy sleep environment with a cosy mattress
  • Make sure you help them overcome any stress
  • Teach coping strategies like re-imagining the ending to something good

3. Can I Help Prevent Nightmares/Night Terrors?

As a parent, you can definitely help with night terrors vs nightmares. A few things you can try are establishing a calm bedtime routine, creating a comfortable sleep environment, monitoring what your child reads or watches at night, and showing them you are always there to keep them safe and listen to them.

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