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Everyone finds nightmares scary, but when you’re a parent, watching your child experience one can be extremely stressful.
This can be even more traumatizing when your child is a baby, or too young to communicate what they’re going through. We don’t know what babies experience in their daily life, but can they have nightmares?
Nightmares can start to happen around 2 years of age. Babies younger than 2 are likely to be having night terrors instead of nightmares.
We’ll also get into the difference between a night terror and a nightmare in this article, as well as what to do if your young child is experiencing one at night.
Can Babies Have Nightmares?
We don’t know exactly what age nightmares start occurring. Night terrors differ from nightmares. The inflicted person feels an incredible sense of terror as they sleep. The person tends to not remember these upon waking, whereas nightmares are terrifying dreams that you may remember the next morning.
It is rare, but babies can begin having night terrors at just 18 months old. Nightmares can start later, but we don’t know when children start to dream, or what they dream about. It can be unsettling not knowing which one your child is experiencing, as they won’t be able to tell you themselves.
However, we do know that nightmares are more common in children aged 2-4. If your child is a baby, it’s more likely that they’re experiencing a night terror than a nightmare.
When Do Children First Start Experiencing Night Terrors?
It’s not very common for infants to have night terrors. Generally speaking, any crying younger babies do at night is due to another reason. They are rare, but you may notice signs of them when your baby reaches 18 months.
Night terrors occur more in children aged 3 to 4, though children can still experience them until they reach 12. Once your child’s nervous system has developed more, the night terrors should cease.
What Causes This Sleep Disruption?
A baby’s environment is full of new and interesting things. Activities and objects that are normal for you are exciting for a baby, as they are still navigating the world. A baby’s central nervous system (CNS) is still adapting, but the CNS can get overstimulated. This excess stimulation may cause night terrors.
If night terrors run in your family, your baby may be more prone to them than others. Some other things can increase the chances of night terrors occurring, including:
- Family history of sleepwalking
- Stress levels
- Poor sleep
- New sleep setting
How To Know If Your Baby Is Having A Night Terror
If your baby has a night terror for the first time, you might believe that they are ill or having a nightmare. However, as pointed out above, night terrors and nightmares aren’t the same things.
Night terrors begin when your baby goes from deep sleep to lighter sleep. This happens during the earlier part of the sleep cycle.
Night terrors can last up to 45 minutes and your baby will be asleep for this whole period, as well as after. Nightmares occur later in the sleep cycle. Your baby may wake up from experiencing a nightmare, but not after a night terror.
Here are some signs that your baby may be having a night terror.
- Glassy, open eyes
- Fast heartbeat
- Quick breathing
If you try and comfort your baby during a night terror, they won’t respond as they are still sleeping.
When the night terror finishes, the baby will go back into a deep sleep and won’t remember the terror in the morning. Nightmares are different, as your child may wake up after one and may remember the details once awake.
What To Do If Your Baby Is Having A Night Terror
Unfortunately, if your child is having a night terror, you can’t do much until they wake up. Seeing your baby go through these symptoms can be hard, but keep in mind that they won’t remember it once they wake up.
The first thing you should remember is to never wake a child that’s experiencing a night terror. They’re still early in their sleep cycle. Waking them during this time can make them tired and confused. It’s also going to be harder for them to fall asleep again.
What you should do is watch your child as they experience a night terror, making sure that you don’t wake them up. This may be difficult as naturally, you want to help your child, but observation is the best action to take.
As you observe your child, you need to make sure that there aren’t any objects around them that may hurt them.
After a while, you should notice your child relax and fall back asleep again. Observing your child can also make you more aware of night terrors so that you feel less helpless about the situation.
Should My Baby See A Doctor?
Night terrors are naturally frightening, but if you suspect your baby is experiencing them, they shouldn’t be cause for alarm. However, do contact your doctor if you think your baby is having seizures or seems scared during the night or day.
If you find it hard to settle into a sleep routine at home, you may want to contact a sleep consultant. Poor sleeping hygiene and fatigue may be causing the night terrors.
A sleep consultant can help you change your sleeping patterns at home, which may lower the chance of your baby going through night terrors.
If you decide to contact your baby’s doctor, note down any symptoms, your and your baby’s sleep routine, and any regular practices. This will help you know what to discuss at your appointment.
The Bottom Line
Night terrors and nightmares are different things. We don’t know what exact age nightmares start occurring, but if your child is a baby, they’ll likely be experiencing night terrors, not nightmares.
If you see your baby experiencing a night terror, observe them and make sure that their environment is free from harmful objects.
You can also try getting you and your baby into a regular sleeping routine. This may reduce the likelihood of night terrors occurring later down the line. Night terrors are stressful for parents, but they’re generally harmless, as your child won’t remember them once they wake up.