It is fairly common for babies and young children to experience nightmares and night terrors; they do grow out of this and they don’t have any lasting damage, but it can be a stressful time. Night terrors differ from nightmares and there isn’t much information about when they begin. Babies tend to wake a lot through the night, usually as they require attention for changing or feeding generally. However, when there seems to be no specific reason for the commotion it often leaves parents wondering, can babies have nightmares? The answer to this is difficult as nobody can really know when children begin to have nightmares; it is thought to be around the age of 2-4 but can vary.
It is not fully known whether young babies have nightmares, but generally it is believed that nightmares begin around the ages of 2 and 4. Many parents believe their babies are having nightmares if they are unsettled during the night however, generally there will be another reason for this.
Night terrors can begin as early as 18 months, so if your baby is a little older, they may begin to develop night terrors. Night terrors differ from nightmares and happen during the deep sleep phase; your baby won’t remember them in the morning.
What are Nightmares?
Nightmares are fairly common in children aged between 3 and 6. They tend to occur later in the night and can be extremely distressing; generally, children may wake up and be able to remember as well as describe the dream. Nightmares can be cause by a frightening experience such as a film and something worrying in waking life. As nightmares are generally brought on by worries or stress in waking life, it is important to talk through them.
What are Night Terrors?
Night terrors are more common if they run in the family, or if sleepwalking runs in the family. Night terrors occur during deep sleep periods and therefore they can be triggered during an increase in the amount of deep sleep your child is having; for example, if they have been extremely tired, ill or on medication.
Night terrors can be difficult to witness but they don’t harm your child; just make sure they are safe but don’t interact with them. You should not attempt to wake a child that is experiencing night terrors as it could make the episode worse. Your child won’t remember the episode the next day but you should still talk it through to see if they have any stresses or worries.
Dealing with Nightmares and Night Terrors
The best way to deal with both nightmares and night terrors is to ensure your child has a relaxing bedtime routine, so that they aren’t stressed when they go to sleep. It is also important to talk to your child and ensure they aren’t worrying or stressed about anything in their waking life, as this can be a big trigger for nightmares.
For night terrors there might be a pattern in which they occur. If this is the case, you can try waking your child 15 minutes before the episode usually occurs; this can help break the cycle if you do it for a week. Generally, children grow out of both nightmares and night terrors but if you are concerned you can speak to your doctor as their may be an underlying issue which can be addressed.