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Nightmares vs. Night Terrors

By far, one of the things parents can agree on is wanting to protect their child from everything that scares them.

While we understand that we can't protect them from everything, there are a few things we can do to help our children. But first, let's go over the difference between a nightmare and a night terror to help troubleshoot what could be going on with your little one.

First, nightmares and terrors don't begin until the age of 2. "But I hear my baby screaming or crying." There could be many reasons (hunger, connecting sleep cycles, etc.) your little one is crying, but the part of the brain responsible for the imagination; the Neocortex and Thalamus don't begin to develop until the age of 2.

Night terrors are a reaction that cause fear and often occurs during the transition of one sleep cycle to the other. In other words, transitioning from Non-REM sleep into REM sleep.

Nightmares often occur during a time of stress, anxiety, a new change, trauma, and more. Oftentimes, trauma can trigger the amygdala (part of the brain that identifies threat), so if you have fostered or adopted a child who has been through trauma, be on the lookout for things during the day that can trigger your child. Things they see or hear make a huge difference.

Common Night Terror Signs

  • Can happen the first half of the night

  • Child doesn't remember the details of what they were dreaming

  • Child doesn't realize you're in the room

  • Confused

  • Sweaty

  • Unable to fully wake up

Common Nightmare Signs

  • Child is easily comforted

  • Child can remember the nightmare

  • Occurs the second half of the night

So How Can We Help Prevent Our Children From Having Nightmares Or Night Terrors?

  • Try to prevent your child from becoming overly tired.

  • Stop the use of all devices 1-2 hours before bedtime. Let their brains have a downtime. To this I like to add, watch what your child is watching. Sometimes something in the background can remain in their mind, causing them to have a nightmare. What's innocent to us, might not be for their young mind.

  • Watch what they're eating. Foods high in sugar and high in food dyes causes the brain to become more stimulated.

  • QUALITY TIME. This is so important. Try to be intentional and give them your affection and undivided attention. Let them know that their room is a safe space.

Extra Tips

  • Consider placing a picture of you or of something that brings them comfort next to their bed.

  • Create a "safe spray" that they can make with you and spray it whenever they feel scared.

  • offer them a flashlight to keep next to their bed.

  • Instead of a nightlight try a red bulb or red salt lamp. Red doesn't stop the production of melatonin.

  • Give them a special comfort item (stuffed animal, a shirt of yours or dad's) and let them know it's to help them know they're safe.

If you're needing any extra support, please contact me.

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