Night Terrors In Toddlers – How To Deal With Them

Your toddler is having night terrors, and it is scaring the hell out of you, right?

I’ve been there before, and each night comes with the danger of another one.

If I told you that 6.5% of children suffer from night terrors, would that make you feel better?

No, didn’t think so. Each time my son has night terrors, I want to leap into his mind and beat the hell out of whatever is scaring him.

BUT…there are some things you need to know that will reassure you and give you an idea of dealing with night terrors in toddlers.

What is a night terror?

what is a night terror
How do you know if your toddler is having a night terror?

A night terror (sleep terror) is an episode of intense fear where your toddler is asleep and is petrified in otherwise relaxing surroundings. They may display symptoms of being awake, but they are not. It is a sleep disorder.

Basically, they are not very nice to witness!

Night terrors usually happen in children between the ages of 3 and 12, when imagination is at its highest!

The chances of your toddler suffering from night terrors are greater if there is a family history of night terrors or sleepwalking.

Usually, if a night terror occurs, it will happen approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep. However, my son’s night terrors are generally around 3 hours after falling asleep.

Night terrors can last up to 30 minutes too! I have never witnessed a 30-minute episode. My son’s usually last between 5 and 10 minutes. I guess I must be one of the lucky ones, right?

My son also started to sleep more each time he had a night terror, so he must have been very tired!

Symptoms of night terrors

There are many signs of night terrors, and except for sleepwalking, my son exhibits the following:

  • Screaming
  • Panic
  • Open Eyes
  • Lashing Out
  • Sleepwalking
  • Sweating
  • Quickened Heartbeat

Causes of night terrors

what causes night terrors
Here are some common causes of night terrors.

It is a huge challenge to understand why your toddler has night terrors. Some common causes, though, will help you identify any potential reasons.

Too much sugar before bed

Low blood sugar has been shown to cause night terrors. The theory is that if a child is given sweets before bed, there is a sugar high. When the sugar high is over, their blood sugar drops significantly.

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This ties in with the timings I have seen with my son and his night terrors. Bad Dad (guilty) gave him some sweets 30 minutes before bedtime. Then, 3 hours later, he was having a night terror!


Kids aged between 3 and 12 is the age range who suffer most from night terrors. There is a theory that is due to an overactive imagination.

Problems at School/Pre-School

Your toddler may be going through a tough time in life. When kids start School or Pre-School, it is a huge life change for them. If your toddler is suffering from regular night terrors, it is worth speaking with the staff to ensure they keep an eye out for any bullying activity.

Problems at home

Consider your toddler’s home life. Do they have any issues here? Do they have siblings, and are they bullying your toddler? Keep a watch over playtimes and interactions to see if you can identify anything that should not happen.


Being overtired can force your brain to behave in strange ways! For example, a toddler’s brain is not different. You already know how much tiredness affects a toddler. So they begin to act up when close to bedtime, right?

Being overtired may trigger a night terror.

Medical problems

I know it is not what you wanted to read! It has to be added in as a potential cause, though.

If your toddler has repeated night terrors and you are concerned, then you should seek guidance from a medical professional. This post is based on my situation and the research I have completed to get to the route of my son’s night terrors. It should not be taken as medical advice!

Night terror v nightmare

A nightmare is a bad dream that can be scary and cause anxiety in a dream.

Symptoms may manifest themselves with twitching, heavy breathing, increased heart rate, and fearful noises (whining, crying, etc.).

A night terror is entirely different and manifests itself with more physical activity, such as screaming and lashing out.

With a night terror, your child will look and act much more lucid and is likely to have their eyes open.

Knowing the differences makes it easy to understand whether your toddler has night terrors or nightmares.

What to do during your toddlers night terrors

give them some love during your toddlers night terror
When your toddler has a night terror, you should give them love, comfort, and reassurance and keep them safe!

Keep your Toddler safe.

During a night terror, your toddler may lash out, walk, or jump out of bed. Wherever he is having the night terror, check the surroundings to ensure nothing is around him to hurt him.

If your toddler has regular episodes where they sleepwalk too, then toddler-proof your home. You do not want your toddler to fall down a stairway!

I cannot bear leaving him alone or watching him in so much distress. My Super Dad powers kick in, and I reach to pick him up and cuddle him.

Even when Mom is holding him, I have an overwhelming urge to hold him and offer words of reassurance.

Remain calm

It would help if you remained calm; I know it is not easy!

Seeing your child go through something that is terrorizing them will get your heart pumping.

You feel terrible that they are going through it, and you feel powerless to do anything to help them. You can see your toddler going through a horrifying experience, and your first job is simple. Remain a calming influence.

Nobody knows if your toddler can hear you or even know that you are there, but it will worsen their night terror if they can and pick up your stress.

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Remaining calm is vital, even if they begin shaking or shouting at you. In their terror state, they may see you as a threat.

Calming a Toddler during a night terror

I always do what I can to calm my son during one of his night terrors! It might work, and it might not work. It makes me feel better, and because it relaxes me, I hope it calms my son.

During his night terror, I cycle through some phrases such as:

  • Daddy is hugging you
  • You are safe
  • You are dreaming
  • Everything you are seeing is not real
  • You are safe
  • Mom is here too
  • No one can hurt you
  • You are at home

I like to think that he can hear what I am saying to him as I whisper these phrases in his ear. I hope that it affects his dream and he begins to calm down and reduce the anxiety he is feeling.

Should you wake your child during a night terror?

No. I know it isn’t easy, I know! When my son had his first-night terror, I was desperate to wake him up. It would help let your toddler ride it out until it is finished. A night terror does not last as long as it feels!

Waking your child up during a night terror may lead them to be confused and disorientated. There is also more chance of your toddler remembering their night terror.

This will lead to difficulty getting them back to sleep and maybe fear sleeping alone.

Switch the lights on

As it is difficult to know what is going through their minds, you must assume certain things. I assume there are objects in the room that scare him—shadows, hanging clothes, etc. So I switch the lights on to clear away some of the shadows.

It may also help to bring him out of his sleep too.

How to prepare for a toddler night terror

When your toddler has regular night terrors, you must prepare for times when it happens.

Create a relaxing bedtime routine

When you put your toddler to sleep, always follow a relaxing bedtime routine to ensure they sleep in the best possible mood.

Begin by softly reading a story before tucking them in and putting on a relaxing sleep light projector for your toddler.

Reduce the chances of any disagreements. If you argue (common when putting a toddler to sleep!), then take some time to relax them before they sleep.

A relaxing bedtime routine is essential if you want to get your toddler to sleep, and it is crucial if you’re going to reduce the chances of your toddler having a night terror.

What you should do after your toddlers night terror

write down details of your toddlers night terror
Write down everything you remember from your toddler’s night terror.

Keep a record

Here is a list of questions to complete each time your toddler has a night terror:

  • Date
  • Food and drink consumed in the 2 hours before bed.
  • Did your toddler watch anything before bed?
  • Which story did you read your toddler before bed?
  • What time did they go to sleep?
  • Did they go to sleep happy, sad, angry, or others?
  • What time did the night terror begin?
  • How long did it last?
  • What, if anything, did you do to calm your toddler?
  • Details of the night terror – what were the symptoms?

Keeping these details of your toddler’s night terror will help you identify any commonalities. For instance, if you notice they have a night terror every time they eat a specific food within 2 hours of bedtime, you can make some changes.

One of my Sons night terrors – my notes

Here are the details of my son’s last night terror:

  • Date
    • 8th May
  • Food and drink consumed in the 2 hours before bed.
    • Candy – my bad!
    • Milk – As per normal
  • Did your toddler watch anything before bed?
    • No
  • Which story did you read your toddler before bed?
    • No story that night
  • What time did they go to sleep?
    • 19:15
  • Did they go to sleep happy, sad, angry, or others?
    • Happy
  • What time did the night terror begin?
    • 22:40
  • How long did it last?
    • 5 minutes
  • What, if anything, did you do to calm your toddler?
    • Explained that Dad and Mom are here, you are dreaming. Nothing can hurt you.
  • Details of the night terror – what were the symptoms?
    • He woke up making noise. I went to his room to see if he is ok. He was asleep still but scared. So I picked him up, and he hugged me. I began the calming phrases (see above). I took him out of his bedroom into the landing, and I switched the lights on. He began screaming with fear, tensing his body. His eyes were open. He was observing his surroundings in sheer panic. He lashed out at thin air. I took him to the living room, and I switched the light on. This carried on for 5 minutes.
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Let them sleep

At the end of my son’s night terrors, the first thing I notice is he can look me in the eye without being petrified. I know it is finished, and I can stop worrying!

After a 2 or 3 minute cuddle, he is either straight back to sleep or wide awake, laughing at me, trying to make him happy again.

If your toddler falls straight asleep after their night terror, let them sleep. You can relax knowing that it is scarce to happen twice in one night!

Get some sleep.

Ask if they remember anything in the morning.

Do not force the questions. Ask once and if they do not remember, stop asking.

If they do remember the night terror, give them a bit of advice.

Remind your toddler that they were dreaming and they were never in danger. In real life, they were safe secure, and no one could hurt them.

Your toddler may fear sleeping alone if they remember their night terrors. You must bear that in mind and begin the corrective actions!


It can be highly distressing when your toddler has a night terror, I know; I have been there a few times!

You can follow the tips on this page to reduce the chances of your toddler having a night terror. It will also give you some tips on dealing with them during and after they happen.

Consider any reasons that could be triggering your toddler’s night terrors. First, the more you note after each episode, the more chance you will have of identifying a commonality for each time they happen.

If you have read this post, you will see the section that clearly shows that I gave my son some sweets too close to bedtime. I am now convinced that the sugar high or another ingredient in those sweets triggered a night terror.

Bad Dad!

The important thing is that you remain calm and keep them safe!

Good luck!


About ME

Let’s start with the obvious, I’m a dad.

I have 2 kids. One was dragged out from the comfort of his Mother’s womb kicking and screaming, and the other was a little easier.

Dad Gold was created to give tips that I wish someone had given me!

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