Breaking the Cycle of Night Terrors by Cara Benau

Photo by  Annie Spratt

Photo by Annie Spratt


Did you know…..night terrors affect 5 in every 100 children between the ages of 18 months to six years old. As opposed to nightmares, night terrors are forgotten by the child because they occur during the transitional period between deep non-REM sleep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. They are caused by over-arousal of the central nervous system. An episode can last anywhere from a few minutes to almost an hour, and when it's over your child may abruptly fall back to sleep with no memory of the incident. The disruption this causes for the child may lead to further stress, which is a catalyst for continual night terrors.  Certified Child Sleep Coach & Expert, Catalina Lau provides her top tips here to help break the cycle.


1. Routine 

Structure and schedules provide your child with security and reliability. Regardless of age, regular schedules and bedtime rituals help us get the sleep we need and give us the ability to function at peak levels. A simple bedtime routine will help children feel safe and secure.


2. Consistency

Consistency and follow-through are key ingredients for success. Without them, it is unrealistic to expect your child to change learned behavioral patterns. By setting a regular bedtime and wake time will align expectations for both you and your child and allows you to plan the bedtime routine.  


2. Get to Bed Before They’re Too Tired

Putting a toddler to bed when they’re overtired is a challenge. Initiating their bedtime routine before seeing signs of tiredness will allow you a longer, slower process that will help your child wind down naturally. This gives you the opportunity to read, cuddle and relax together in a way that doesn’t feel forced or rushed.


3. Narrate the Evening

Pre-bedtime, find ways to pleasantly remind your child about their upcoming routine. Allowing your child plenty of time to process and prepare for sleep removes any chance for surprises or unexpected feelings of anxiety. Tell them what will be coming up soon, what steps you’re going to take and what they will experience.


4. Empower your children. Let Them Decide

Along with the feeling of control, which reduces stress, empower your children with choice so that they feel they are in charge of their bedtime. Encourage them to select their pyjamas, toys they want to sleep with and stories they’d like to read before hitting the sheets which will get them mentally prepared for bed.


5. Breathe Baby, Breathe

Teach your child simple breathing techniques which will help calm them down. Make this exercise fun and interactive by asking them to place their hands on their belly and imagine blowing up a balloon and then deflating it as they exhale.  


7. Use visual and verbal cues. 

Reinforce structure and expectations by reinforcing a phrase: ‘Our rule is that kids are in bed by 6:30 each evening’ and be consistent with it.  


8. Cuddles and questions

Lastly, open up conversation to questions and ask them what they are excited about doing tomorrow. Close the chat with a kiss and cuddle. 


9. Let there be light  

Introduce a night light to the bedroom. Glow Dreaming is a great one, based on scientific research and a true master sleeping aid.