Feelgood Health

Understanding bad dreams, nightmares and night terrors in children

Nightmares night terrors in toddlers and children

Causes and natural treatment of nightmares and night terrors in children

Nightmares and night terrors (yes, there's a difference between the two) can happen to anybody, but it's especially heartbreaking when it happens to your toddler or child! As a parent, you never want to see your child frightened or upset, and will go to vast measures to ensure that they're happy and at peace. Many toddlers and children suffer from nightmares and night terrors, and the reason behind this occurrence varies. The good news is that there are numerous methods to help your child have a peaceful night's sleep!

Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for sleep specialists or doctor's to prescribe certain pharmaceutical medication (e.g. sleeping pills, antihistamines, antidepressants or blood pressure drugs) to toddlers and children who suffer from sleep disturbances. While the medication may sedate them enough to sleep through the night, it does not treat the underlying cause of nightmares and night terrors. These medications often come with unwanted side effects such as dependency, irritability, daytime grogginess, behavioural problems, headaches, poor performance at school, etc. 

Studies have shown that nightmares and night terrors in children (and adults) mostly stem from emotional upsets, in which case, the above-mentioned medication will have no effect in remedying the underlying causes!

Let's take a look at the difference between nightmares and night terrors, what might be causing your child to suffer from nightmares or night terrors, and healthy solutions!

What are nightmares

Nightmares are essentially bad dreams. When a child experiences a nightmare, emotions such as fear, sadness, anxiety or dread may be evoked. Depending on the child's age, they may have difficulty separating a bad dream from reality, as nightmares are often extremely vivid! It's fairly normal for toddlers and children to experience a nightmare every once in a while. However, if nightmares are a frequent event, you may want to look deeper into the child's psyche and find out what may be the cause.

If a toddler or child experiences a nightmare, they may or may not wake up from the dream immediately, but they're likely to remember it when they do eventually wake up. Frequent nightmares can often make your child upset and afraid of sleeping, and may be a reason for bedtime struggles or bedtime defiance.

The exact reason why nightmares occur in toddlers and children is unknown, however psychologists relate nightmares to various causes:

  • If the toddler or child has been through a traumatic event like a car accident, abuse, or death of a close relative
  • They're being bullied at school
  • If they saw or heard something scary or disturbing (on TV, at school etc.)
  • After a separation/divorce 
  • Change of school or relocating to a new house
  • If they struggle with anxiety

Healthy solutions to treat your child's nightmares:

  • Keep their bedtime routine consistent, positive and fun! Toddlers and children thrive off routine, and any unpredictability often causes them to feel insecure! Feelings of uncertainty, especially before bedtime, may in turn bring on nightmares. Stick to a firm bed time and introduce a fun routine to follow every evening, which will help them mentally prepare for bedtime. Start off with a warm, relaxing bath and add 2-4 drops of 100% pure organic lavender essential oil, which is very calming and soothing. After their bath, let them choose a book for you to read to them in bed. Another great idea is to get a soothing night light to put next to their bed.
  • While parents do not want to leave a flame burning in the bedroom, that does not mean that you can’t use essential oils to relax your child and support peaceful sleep! Invest in an aromatherapy Cold Mist Diffuser and essential oils like Lavender, Sandalwood, Pure Indigenous Night Blend or Inslumbia. A pillow spray like Night Pillow Mist will also do the trick!
  • Do not allow your child to be exposed to any electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime. The frequencies emitted from these devices can interrupt their brain functioning, hormone levels and sleep patterns.
  • ALWAYS monitor what your child is exposed to on TV, cellphones, YouTube, PlayStation or computer games. The internet can be a scary place, and one wrong click can lead to long-term psychological effects on your toddler or child.
  • When your child wakes up from a nightmare, comfort them sufficiently and sit next to them until they fall back asleep. Cuddle them, rub their back and reassure them. The next day, it's important to encourage your child to speak about the dream to determine if there might be a theme to the nightmares, which could help you figure out what's bothering them.
  • If your toddler or child suffers from regular nightmares, invest in safe, natural remedies like Good Dream Sprinkles, which comforts your child after a nightmare and soothes night time anxiety.
  • If your toddler or child has experienced trauma or is going through a tough time, it's likely that their bad dreams are owed to psychological distress. MindSoothe Jr is a daily natural antidepressant and mood tonic, formulated especially for children by a clinical psychologist! Once they've regained emotional stability, it's more than likely that their nightmares will stop.

If your toddler or child's nightmares become worse or increase in frequency, consider taking them to a psychologist or sleep specialist.

What are night terrors

Night terrors are often confused with, but are quite different from nightmares! A night terror is a sleep disturbance that's characterised by a sudden arousal from sleep, accompanied by inconsolable stress, crying, screaming, sweating or shaking. The toddler or child may calm down after a period of consoling from their parents, after which they fall back asleep. Night terrors are not associated with bad dreams, but rather with an uneasy transition between the different stages of sleep, usually when sleep moves from the deepest stage of non-REM sleep to lighter REM sleep. It's typically caused by an over-arousal of the central nervous system (CNS) during sleep.

During a night terror, the toddler or child may suddenly sit bolt-upright in bed with eyes wide open, but will not notice the presence of their parents. While the child is likely to remember bad dreams, they often have no recollection of night terrors. Sleep specialists advise that you do NOT try wake anybody experiencing a night terror - they're likely to be disoriented and confused, and may take longer to settle down and go back to sleep! The best thing a parent can do is to sit with the toddler or child and ensure they do not get hurt due to uncontrollable thrashing or rolling around. The episode will usually last between 10-30 minutes before they settle and fall back asleep.

Causes of night terrors:

  • If the toddler or child is overtired 
  • If the toddler or child is unwell
  • Stress or psychological upsets 
  • Medication that disrupts healthy sleeping patterns
  • An unhealthy diet (sugar, fizzy drinks, preservatives etc.)
  • Genetics

Healthy solutions to treat your child's night terrors:

  • As mentioned previously, it's extremely important for toddlers and children to have a consistent bedtime routine. Not only does this have a positive effect on their emotional well-being, giving them a sense of security, it also ensures that they get enough sleep every night! Sufficient sleep is critical for their sensitive and growing bodies! If their sleeping patterns are thrown out, it may result in night terrors, poor school performance and even childhood depression (in serious circumstances)!
  • Ensure that your toddler and child has a healthy immune system and optimally-functioning body! KiddieBoost is a natural herbal immune system tonic for children's health that promotes your child's natural resistance to illness and speeds up their recovery time. A daily dairy-free, gluten-free, wheat-free, preservative-free multi-vitamin provides children with a complete range of vitamins, minerals and trace elements that they need to maintain their health and brain functioning, which is also linked to peaceful sleep patterns.
  • Do not allow your child to be exposed to any electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime. The frequencies emitted from these devices can interrupt their brain functioning, hormone levels and sleep patterns.
  • If your toddler or child suffers from regular night terrors, invest in safe, natural remedies like Du Du Drops, which is a top selling natural sleep remedy for children and toddlers! Formulated by our Clinical Psychologist, Du Du Drops restores healthy, regular and peaceful sleeping patterns!
  • If your toddler or child has experienced trauma or is going through a tough time, it's likely that their night terrors are owed to psychological distress. MindSoothe Jr is a daily natural antidepressant and mood tonic, formulated especially for children by a clinical psychologist! Once they've regained emotional stability, it's more than likely that their night terrors will stop.
  • Try your best to provide your child with a nutritious, healthy diet! Avoid unhealthy snacks, especially cold drinks that are jam-packed with sugar!
  • Essential oils can provide aromatherapy relief and encourage deeper, more
    peaceful sleep. Suggestions are LavenderSandalwood, Inslumbia or Pure Indigenous Night Blend. Add a few drops to the nighttime bath or infuse in a Cold Mist Diffuser.

If your toddler or child's night terrors become worse or increase in frequency, consider taking them to a psychologist or sleep specialist.

If you have any questions related to your child's sleep, contact us for FREE advice. We always love hearing from you!

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