Children’s Sleep Problems: Nightmares and Night Terrors

Last time we discussed wetting the bed this time we are tackling nightmares and night terrors.

At some point your child may have a nightmares or night terrors, they will grow out of them but it can be a scary time for them.  Nightmares and night terrors are different:


Nightmares are bad dreams and often occur in children aged 3-8 years old. They occur in the lighter stages of sleep and will often wake your child up. The can normally recall the bad dream.

Nightmares are often caused by seeing something scary like a film or a story. If your child has recurrent nightmares you may need to seek help and should make an appointment with your GP

Night Terrors

When a child has night terrors they may scream or shout and jump about in a panic. They will not be awake and you should not attempt to wake them. They occur in the early stages of sleep.

Night terrors can be triggered by many things such as tiredness or fever. It is more common in children whose family have a history of night terrors or sleep walking.

Naomi Richards, author of The Parent’s Toolkit. advises:

As a parent keep calm. Reassure your child that they are ok and guide them back into bed if they are still asleep. If they are awake after having a nightmare – give them a cuddle and reassure them that they have had a bad dream and that it was only a dream. You are going to look after them. Again get them back into bed thinking of something nice so they are relaxed and drop off again



Posted in Children waking in the night, Children's Sleep Problems

Case Study: Early Risers

Kathy is a 34 year old mother of two. She stays at home to look after her little boy, who is 18 months old, and her 4 year old girl but can’t remember the last time she got to sleep past 5am. Kathy’s husband, Mark, works long hours and often doesn’t get home from work until after 8pm. The children go to bed around 6:30pm, so are usually asleep by the time their father gets home.

Once Mark and Kathy have had dinner, talked about their respective days and watched some television, it’s usually around 11pm and Kathy tries to make sure she’s in bed by then. She knows she should get to bed earlier because the children are early risers and are often up for the day from anything between 4-5am. The children share a room, and her son usually wakes first, then rouses his sister to play with him. Lately, with the days getting lighter, it’s been closer to 4am and Kathy is exhausted.

Kathy and Mark decide to try putting the children in separate rooms, and making sure those rooms are as dark as possible. The separation doesn’t go well at all. The children are used to sleeping in the same room and suddenly bedtimes become a struggle as well.So the children’s beds go back in together and Kathy starts looking at how to darken the room.

First of all, Kathy buys blackout lining for the curtains already in the room. There are easy to install, cheap and seemed to make quite a difference to the light coming into the room as far as she could tell. However, some light still comes in from the bottom of the windows and they did nothing to stop the kids’ early wakings.

Next she tries roller blinds. These have to be cut to size and are a little more fiddly to install. They stop light coming from the bottom of the windows, but a bit still sneaks in around the sides. Kathy likes them so much that she relocates them to her and Mark’s bedroom when the kids continue to wake at 4:30 am.

Now Kathy is eyeing up velcro blackout blinds for the children but her husband is baulking at paying for a third solution that might not work. He uses black rubbish bags and a lot of tape to temporarily black out the children’s window and this does appear to help. The children have a couple of nights sleeping until 6 am, but then pull on the taped up bags around the window and made a hole in them. At this point Kathy goes ahead and buys the Velcro blackout blinds.

Now the children sometimes pull the velcro blackout blind down to look outside when they wake in the morning, but it can be easily put back in place. And as they rarely wake before 6 am these days, everyone is much happier.

Posted in Better sleep for toddlers, Children waking in the night, Early Risers

What Might Be Waking Your Child?

If you have child that wakes regularly in the middle of the night, or too early in the morning, then you don’t necessarily have to just put up with it.

There are a number of things you can try to keep your child in their bed, but the most important thing is to Be Consistent. Decide upon the action you are going to take, and resolve to stick with it for at least 2-3 weeks.

If your sleep is regularly disturbed by your child getting into your bed in the middle of the night, then you need you need to quickly, and calmly, return your child into their own bed, every time they try and get into yours.

If they are sneaking in without you noticing, then you may need to pull your bedroom door to, and put up something noisy like wind chimes that will wake you when your child tries to come into your room. Alternatively, a stair gate across your bedroom door may be enough to deter them from trying to come in to see you.

If your child makes a fuss when being returned, then make sure they have their comforter to hand and are tucked in before you return to your room. It’s best not to sit with them until they drift off as they may just come looking for you when they wake again. Tell them you will see them in the morning and leave their sight, but be ready to repeat the process again if necessary. If you have a partner, it can help if you take turns.

If your child wakes early every morning, then it’s worth considering what might be waking them. Are there noises inside or outside the house that are disturbing them? If light is entering their room, good quality black out blinds may be the answer.

If environmental causes have been ruled out, and you’ve decided that the time of your early morning wakings is just not acceptable for your family, then treat morning disturbances in the same way as you would middle of the night wakings.

Finally, some children just don’t need as much sleep as others, so if they don’t seem tired during the day, it’s worth experimenting with a later bedtime.
Posted in Children waking in the night