Catherine Completely Baby Sleep Consultant

Catherine Thompson
Baby Sleep Consultant & Owner of Completely Baby

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Parents are used to their babies crying in the night, but what if their cries and screams escalate and they can’t be comforted? Some parents check in on their babies when they hear them distressed to discover they seem awake and alert, yet scared, anxious or fearful. No matter what they do to soothe them, they can’t seem to settle.

If this sounds familiar, your baby might be experiencing what is referred to as a Night Terror.

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What is a Night Terror?

Night terrors, also known as sleep terrors, are feelings of fear, panic or distress while deep in sleep. They normally occur quickly after your baby falls asleep, typically within the first two or three hours. Some people classify them as sleep disorders but they are very natural.

Night terrors are not the same as nightmares or scary dreams; they tend to be more stressful, and your baby or child will appear more distressed and be more difficult to wake than someone experiencing a nightmare. Often when someone has a night terror, they can’t remember what they were scared or fearful about while asleep.

Night terrors are less common than nightmares and quite rare for very young babies. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, night terrors are more common for young children (around 1-5%) than adults during deep sleep (about 1-2%).

In terms of nightmares versus night terrors in babies, night terrors can occur from as young as 18 months, whereas nightmares are more common from the age of two.

Night terrors in babies can last around forty minutes, with your child likely to be unresponsive to your attempts to soothe or calm them. They usually involve movement, such as sleepwalking, sitting or standing, and their eyes are typically open.

What Can You Do to Help?

It can be really upsetting for parents to see their baby or child going through a night terror and be unable to offer them comfort or wake them from the distressing experience.

It might be reassuring to know night terrors in babies aren’t dangerous or harmful, and you can help to keep them safe further by:

  • Ensuring their sleep environment is safe and hazard-free, so they won’t injure themselves if they walk or move around.

  • Waiting calmly with them while they go through the night terror, so you can comfort and guide them back to sleep quickly after the episode.

  • Not attempting to force them awake, as this may distress them further or cause the night terror to go on for longer.

Lots of parents want to know the causes of night terrors in babies. There isn’t one single cause, but many medical professions indicate that the stimulation and interactions babies and young children experience daily can be overwhelming for their developing brains. This overwhelming stimulation might lead to night terrors.

Research has indicated night terrors in babies, and in particular sleep-walking, can be hereditary so in other words there is a family history of the issue. Other things that might impact whether your baby experiences a night terror include:

  • Experiencing an illness or feeling sick.

  • Some medications may have side effects that include night terrors.

  • A disrupted day with broken routines and overtiredness.

  • Being in an unfamiliar sleeping environment.

  • Experiencing stress or trauma.

3 Ways to Help Prevent Sleep Terrors

After causes, the next thing parents typically want to know is how to stop night terrors in babies. Again, there’s no one answer here. Knowing the cause behind the night terror can help. For instance, if it happens following a new medication, you can wait until the course of medication is finished or speak to your GP about an alternative.

Other ways you can help if your baby or child is experiencing night terrors without any apparent cause include:

  1. Focus on a calming bedtime routine: Help set them up for a peaceful night sleep by implementing a consistent, calm bedtime routine. Keep it simple and easy for you to implement night after night so they can feel safe and secure, knowing what’s going to happen.

  2. Make sure they are getting the right amount of rest: Overtiredness and restlessness can lead to night terrors, so make sure your baby is getting the right amount of sleep they need for their age – this includes daytime naps. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises four to twelve-month-olds need between 12-16 hours of sleep a day. Between the age of one and two years, they should be getting between 11-14 hours a day. Ensure you can establish healthy sleep habits as early as possible.

  3. Speak to a GP or baby sleep expert: Don’t struggle alone. If your baby or child is experiencing frequent night terrors and there is no apparent cause, get some help. You can speak with your local GP or seek support from a baby sleep expert.

When to Get Additional Support

Because the causes of night terrors in babies can be varied, it’s essential to know when it might be a passing phase and when to get additional support.

This can be a stressful experience for parents and babies alike. Sleep deprivation can cause a whole host of other issues so I encourage you to think about getting additional support if:

  • You’re losing sleep, even when your baby doesn’t have a night terror, worried that they will.

  • Your baby is experiencing frequent sleep terrors or bad dreams that seem to be getting worse or lasting longer than expected.

  • Your babies night terrors impact your relationship with them or your partner, or they’re impacting on siblings ability to sleep.

  • You feel like you just don’t know how to handle the experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes night terrors in babies?

There could be several causes for night terrors in babies. It could be hereditary or simply part of their brain developing and processing their busy day. Other things to look out for if your baby suddenly has night terrors are any new medications, any stress they might have experienced, a disrupted day or recent illness.

How to stop night terrors in babies?

You can help prevent night terrors by making sure your baby has a consistent and calm bedtime routine, and they get enough sleep throughout the day for their age.

Can a one-year-old experience night terrors?

It’s very rare for a one-year-old to experience night terrors. They usually begin from around the age of 18 months.

What deficiency causes night terrors?

Night terrors can be caused by deficiencies in certain vitamins or minerals, such as magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc and Vitamin B6. Deficiencies in these vitamins and minerals can lead to low levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical that helps regulate sleep and calming responses. Low levels of serotonin can disrupt the regular sleep cycle which may lead to night terrors in infants .

Next Steps

The best thing you can do if you feel like you can’t help your baby is get the right support to help both you and them, so you can keep growing in your relationship together, happily and healthily.

Night terrors don’t have to disrupt you, and your babies sleep. If you’re struggling – I can help. I am an experienced baby sleep consultant and infant sleep specialist. What makes me unique is my education and healthcare background and I offer 3 weeks support on all my packages, including free access to my app which includes a sleep diary / logging feature which can be transformational in monitoring and supporting your baby to find better sleep.

Book a completely free chat with me today here, and let’s help your baby on their way to better sleep.

Catherine Completely Baby Sleep Consultant

Catherine Thompson
Baby Sleep Consultant & Owner of Completely Baby

Did you find this article helpful? I am a highly experienced baby sleep consultant with a unique educational and healthcare background who supports tired parents to help their babies find sleep more easily. If you want to chat about your situation please book in a free chat today by clicking the below button now! Alternatively you can text or call me on: +61 406 344 010.