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Newborn and Infant Care

Nightmares or night terrors

05/09/2007

Question:

My son is 11 months and seems to be having some kind of nightmares or night terrors. It only happens 2 or 3 times a month and just recently started a couple of months ago. He will be alseep for a while and then he will start whining a little and then he will just freak out and start crying and kind of like mumbling (he cant really talk yet) and when we pick him up to comfort him he just pushes us away and he seems to be asleep the whole time he is doing this. We try to give him a bottle to comfort him and he wont take it. After a few minutes he will calm back down and we will lay him back down and a little while later he does it again. What do you think is wrong? Could it be nightmares or night terrors? What should we do to help him?

Answer:

Your description certainly coincides with that of night terrors. These are caused by difficulty within the brain in transitioning from Stage four non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep or deep sleep to REM sleep or active sleep, the time to dream.  It occurs in about 3% of children. The child has no memory of the awakening and returns to sleep easily. There is nothing wrong with the child at all. Night terrors resolve on their own over time.

Your child is too young for nightmares, which depend on the emergence of imagination in the late toddler, early preschool years. Unlike night terrors, nightmares occur during REM sleep, the child remembers the dreams and is unwilling to go back to sleep.

There really is nothing more that you can do other than being with him and attempting to comfort him. It is scary and concerning to witness night terrors in your child, but there is truly nothing wrong. If the night terrors become predictable, it sometimes helps to awaken the child before the time the terrors occur. Some doctors treat the child with many, regular night terrors with valium, also called diazepam, because it suppresses REM sleep.

However, at this time, it seems as though the episodes are scattered and unpredictable, suggesting that medication and pre-awakening are really not options at this time. It is always a good idea to discuss your concerns with your baby's doctor, especially if you notice an increase in the occurrence of these episodes or the development of a predictable pattern.

I hope this information helps. 

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Response by:

Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University