Toddler boy sleeping with a stuffed animal

What Are Night Terrors And How Do You Minimize Them?

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Before we get into this sensitive topic, let’s make sure we are on the same page.  Night terrors are not normal nightmares.

Night terrors are intense episodes where children are generally crying out of fear in their sleep and oftentimes difficult to wake up.  

If you have a toddler with night terrors you know the symptoms are brutal. From screaming to night sweats. Children may not even remember the incident the next day. 

First, a little about the author:

Night Terror Triggers

Here are some ideas about triggers and why they might cause night terrors.

  • Genetic: If you had them then your children could have them. 
  • Sleep deprivation:  Most doctors say toddlers should be getting between 11-14 hours of sleep each night.  
  • Stress: Even our tiny ones can feel the effects of stress and since they don’t know how to process life well yet, some say it might come out through night terrors. 
  • Fever: Simple childhood illness that includes fevers could be the culprit. 

Even though night terrors are relatively common and generally nothing to be concerned about medically, every parent whose child has night terrors is going to try to stop them! 

What can you do in the moment

When my daughter had night terrors I found that trying to talk to her or hold her just didn’t bring her out of it. 

The only thing that I could do to immediately stop the night terror was to carry her to the toilet and ask her to go to the bathroom.  As soon as she would go, she would snap out of it and wake up. It was instant!

She didn’t seem to know she was even under distress and just wanted to get back into her bed.  It became my automatic response to her night terrors and worked every time.

Thankfully she outgrew them within a year. If your aim is to prevent them in the first place, then keep reading and check out my tips for minimizing night terrors.   

Minimizing Night Terrors

Here are some tips to help minimize night terrors:

Good Bedtime Routines

The first parenting advice I was ever given, was to get my new baby on a bedtime routine. I’ve never forgotten the value of a peaceful set of bedtime habits.  Amazingly as our children get older, the bedtime routine still holds it’s value.

A common routine looks something like this: bath, teeth and hair brushing, a sip of water, bedtime story, song, and prayers. A simple bedtime routine and be done in 15 minutes. If your child is having night terrors, drawing out the routine to an hour or so could be beneficial. Getting your child to relax and unwind before bed can relieve any anxiety that might be a contributing factor to night terrors. 

Remove Sugars

Cut out sugar (even fruit) after 6 P.M.

Because sugar can keep us up longer it makes sense that it can affect the sleep patterns of our children. For children to be well-rested they need to get the appropriate amount of sleep.

Children who have had sugar in recent hours might struggle to fall asleep and just one night of bad sleep can affect them for multiple days.  If your child has night terrors then having the appropriate amount of sleep every night is really important. 

No Screen Time Before Bed

Turn off screens 2-4 hours before bedtime

Studies show that the brain stimulation screen time induces make if very difficult to go to sleep and some even think makes it more difficult to get into the REM sleep your body really needs. The science behind this is really interesting. The lights from the screens actually make it more difficult for people to naturally produce melatonin.

Taking melatonin is one way some people ensure they get more sleep. It’s a bit controversial with children, but an option to look into if your child is having trouble falling asleep at night. 

Managing Stress

Teach your child how to manage stress

Since stress might be a contributing factor to night terrors, teaching your children to manage life’s difficulties is important.

Always talk to your children about the difficulties of life. Let them ask questions and talk so they can verbally process the happenings of life.

We, so often, as parents forget children have emotions and reactions to life that they need to learn to process. Bottling up emotions can lead to anxiety and stress which is associated with night terrors. 

8 Ways To Combat Night Terrors text and image of boy sleeping

Recommended Sleep

Make sure your child is getting the recommended amount of sleep.

Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are factors. Most doctors recommend 12-14 hours of sleep per day for a child ages 1-3.  That can include naptime, of course.

Daily activity

There is an argument for overstimulation being a possible cause of night terrors. You don’t want your child to be sleep deprived or intake too much sugar, but if your child has enough physical activity during the daytime hours, they can actually sleep better and longer. 

The combination of appropriate physical activity, diet and monitoring screen time is all factorable even though some of it seems counter-intuitive. The main objective is to get the right kind of tired at the right time and avoid areas of life that make it difficult to sleep. 

Essential Oils

Can lavender oil help night terrors?

Essential oils are a great way to provide more home remedies and less medication for your children.  A dab of lavender behind both ears and a swipe on their pillow has helped my children over the years when they have trouble falling asleep. 

Sleep Apnea?

Ask your doctor about sleep apnea

This is simple enough. At your child’s well-child checkup ask them to help you identify whether or not your child may suffer from sleep apnea.  There are some home tests you can do instead of doing a full sleep study. Since this can be a possible cause of night terrors, it’s nice to rule it out quickly. 


Night terrors can be scary for both parents and adults.  The bottom line is to keep your child eating healthy foods, active in daily physical movement, and get them checked out by the doctor when necessary.

When your child is going through a difficult season, don’t fret.  Don’t assume the worst, but do your homework and be well informed. So many of our children’s issues can be solved with healthy habits, including enough exercise and sleep. 

Decrease sugar and screen time and spend more time as a family and outside. 

Don’t forget to listen to your children even when they are really young. They have feelings they are learning to process and they need parents to help. 

With just a few additions to life and subtractions before bedtime, you can help kick night terrors for good!

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Minimizing Night Terrors In Toddlers (nightmares vs night terrors) text over red sunset

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