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Nightmares Vs. Night Terrors

Hello Pam.

My husband and I took your seminar when our daughter was
8 months old and things have been going very well! Unfortunately, we
have hit a big road bump. Not sure if you have any advice or insight. The
last few nights she has been waking somewhere between 10 and 11 and
very upset. Last night she let out a terrifying scream so I went to her and
she was shaking like a leaf and refuses to go back to her bed. She starts
shaking when I try putting her back in. She is also very “awake”. She
will be 2 on September 1st. Is it time for a night- light? We have no idea
why this has stated or why she’s refusing her room. She goes down still
no problem and is napping fine. Any suggestions would be very much
appreciated!
Thank you,
N, H and S

Answer:

It sounds like your sweet little girl is having nightmares or night terrors.

If it is a nightmare or bad dream, she will RESPOND when you and Harry
go into the room to offer comfort and reassurance. When she is older, she
will be able to remember it the next day, tell you about the dream and what
is troubling her.

If it is a night terror, she will NOT RESPOND. These can be especially
terrifying for a parent because you are unable to calm them down. They
are essentially caught between two stages of sleep. You simply need to
wait it out and they will go back into a new stage of sleep all on their own.
It is best to try not to wake them. When she is older, she won’t remember
it the next day and it is better not to talk about it as you don’t want her to
become scared of her sleep.

Some children are more prone to nightmares and night terrors. If you
feel that Sarah is one of those children, then you may need to be more
protective of her sleep. At the seminar, you were encouraged to honour
her sleep, you may need to take it one step further. Unfortunately, you
can’t prevent nightmares and night terrors from happening at all, but you
CAN reduce the frequency.

What can you do to reduce the frequency?

  • Sleep Deprivation brings on Nightmares and Night Terrors. Take a
    step back and look at the amount she is sleeping by night. Is she
    perhaps going to bed later than she used as it is summer time?
    Even 30 minutes a night can have an impact – that equates to 210
    minutes or 3.5 hours of lost sleep.
  • Screen Time also increases the frequency of these events. If she
    is prone to them, avoid TV, computer time and video games after 6
    Although these activities – especially TV and movies appear
    to relax our children, studies have shown that they actually over
    stimulate the central nervous system.
  • Take a step back and take a look at the movies and TV shows she is
    watching during the day. Are they too scary by chance?
  • Take a step back and take a look at the books you are reading?
    Are any about monsters at bedtime or about having bad dreams? I
    tested this with my own children. I have completed avoided books
    about sleep with any messages about the possibility of bad dreams
    and monsters in the room. A few months ago, just before bed, we
    read a very cute story about a squirrel who was scared to sleep due
    to his fear that he might have a bad dream. He eventually learns to
    overcome his fear and it has a positive outcome. However, for the
    very first time in her three years of life, my daughter woke that very
    night complaining of a bad dream. We never read the book again.
  • Take a step back and look at what she is eating. Some babies and
    children can have a red food dye sensitivity and it can affect their
    If you think that might be the case, look for dye free medicines
    and avoid foods that have “color” as an ingredient.

More helpful strategies:

  • Yes, go ahead and get a night-light in case she might have learned
    to be afraid of the dark. It is so much easier when they are older and
    can verbally express that fear. Take her shopping for one so that it can be even more fun and enjoyable for her.
  • Continue to make bedtime and naptime as fun and as enjoyable
    prior to sleep as you learned in the seminar. Avoid discussions
    about bad dreams and night terrors unless she brings them up. If
    she does, gently reassure her that it is OK. And that she can cuddle
    with her best friend aka lovey if one happens We all dream when
    we sleep and it’s how we learn and remember. Help her focus and
    remember all the wonderful things she did in the day so that she can
    dream about that.
  • If she does wake in the night, try waiting 30 seconds to a minute
    before you respond. She may just remember your discussions about
    cuddling her lovey and that is normal to dream.
  • If she does not self settle, then go to her and offer some love and
    If she is fairly calm, try to avoid picking her up and
    give her a hug and encourage her to hug her lovely. Let her know
    that she is OK, that you can’t have the same dream twice. Try your
    best to avoid long discussions about the dream until the next day.
    (A former client ended up innocently encouraging her daughter to
    start waking up multiple times in the night having bad dreams by
    drawing too much attention to them). You definitely want to offer
    love, comfort and reassurance in the moment but quickly and back
    to sleep.
  • This is the toughest part. You have given your beautiful little
    girl of sleep! If she can fall asleep all on her own at the beginning of
    the night and for nap time, then she can go back to sleep all on her
    own in the middle of the night even if she is WIDE AWAKE as you
    describe. I know it’s hard when she has slept peacefully and happily
    for over a year now!

If after working through these tips and strategies, the frequency of her
night-waking increase and/or she is refusing to go back to sleep in her
crib, please get back in touch for more support and strategies. Good Luck!