There’s a massive difference between nightmares and night terrors. There’s also a difference in the way that they are best handled by the parent or career.
A nightmare is an unpleasant or scary dream. Everyone dreams and everybody is capable of experiencing nightmares. Many people have nightmares without even being aware of it. Nightmares happen more often in children than adults.
A night terror isn’t a dream but a more an altered sleep state (parasomnia). Adults rarely experience night terrors.
A kid will nearly always wake up after a nightmare and will probably be distressed. You can comfort a child after a nightmare.
Night terrors don’t wake a child up. Though they may have their eyes open, they won’t be awake and cannot comprehend or communicate. Do not attempt to wake them up as they will get confused.
Kids who have had a nightmare may resist going back to sleep because they are afraid. Sometimes they may want to come and sleep on your bed. That is OK if it just happens occasionally
After a night terror, kids will probably settle down fairly quickly. Just stay together until afterward in case they attempt to get up and hurt themselves.
Nightmares almost always happen later in the night through the mild stages of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
Night terrors happen earlier in the night through heavy non-REM or delta sleep. They are not likely to happen after the first 4 hours.
Kids will usually recall a nightmare in the morning, especially if it’s recurring.
Night terrors are usually completely forgotten.
Both nightmares and night terrors can be alarming for parents but are not in themselves harmful. Both are by products of an active growing mind. Night terrors should just be a concern if they last longer than 30 minutes or are accompanied by other unusual behavior such as jerky movements or stiffening of the body.
Make sure your kid isn’t overtired, this is a leading cause of night terrors. Make sure that they go to bed and get up at exactly the same time of the day or night. This helps establish a healthy sleep pattern.
Nightmares can be caused by something that is stressing your little one. Try to make them talk about their fears and reassure them throughout the day.
Another cause of nightmares could be separation anxiety. Children’s survival instinct causes this fear of abandonment. Make sure they know they are safe and protected.
Sleepwalking can happen during or after night terrors and is tied to the same deep phase of sleep. Sleepwalking on it’s own is not usually a cause for alarm, but the potential for accident of injury makes it a risky activity!
If you know or even suspect that your child is a sleepwalker, make sure that there are no traps they can walk into such as stairs or open windows.
If you feel there’s something about your children’s sleep that is unusual or abnormal, see your physician. Parental intuition can be quite accurate!