Night Terrors vs Nightmares

A few weeks ago, James was waking up from his nap, after only 30-45 minutes, screaming crying. It would only last a few minutes and he would eventually get back to sleep but it was really scary and sad. I immediately ran to my friend Emily Freilino who is a sleep consultant to see what was up! She has written several posts here like her Sleep Q+A and creating a good sleep routine. Emily is super helpful and if you have any questions on your children’s sleep contact her via email at

Thankfully, Emily said, he wasn’t suffering from night terrors nor nightmares BUT he might be getting too much sleep! Who knew that was a thing? That post will come soon!


what to look for

  • Typically occurs during non-REM sleep within 2-3 hours of going to sleep (first half of night)
  • Crying and/ or screaming lasts for about 5-20 minutes
  • Nothing calms child down
  • Child can be sweaty, have increased heart and/ or breathing rate
  • Child appears awake but is confused; unaware of parent in room
  • Usually won’t remember episodes
  • Night terrors are much more common in boys and happen in 5% of all children

why it happens

  • Stressful life events
  • Fever
  • Medications
  • Sleep Deprivation
  • Child is working on a developmental milestone 
  • Mom or dad had them as a kid – night terrors are hereditary!
  • Disruption in child’s typical sleep pattern

how to help

  • Keep your child’s bedroom safe
  • Monitor your child but avoid interfering as that can worsen the episode 
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule for your child 
  • Don’t talk about the event the next morning with the child 
  • If your child has them at a consistent time, wake your child 15 minutes before he/she typically has the episode and do this every night for 7-10 nights and the episodes will likely start to diminish
  • Consult your pediatrician if concerned


what to look for

  • Child can recall the nightmare
  • Usually occur during REM sleep (second half of the night)
  • Very common for children ages 2-4 
  • Child will seek comfort from you after the nightmare and can take a while to fall back to sleep

why it happens

  • Imagination is very active
  • Stressful events that day
  • Major changes such as moving
  • Scary Movies
  • Sick

how to help

  • Comfort – offer a blanket or stuffed animal, hugs or back rubs, be patient and willing to talk as much or as little as the child wants
  • Bedtime routine
  • Nightlights

One thought on “Night Terrors vs Nightmares

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.