Night terrors in toddlers affect 1%-6% of children in the US. This condition is often disregarded as a minor issue because it passes on its own. However, a study published in JAMA Pediatrician shows that kids who experience night terrors as toddlers are more likely to develop sleepwalking disorder when they get older. 

Bear in mind that night terrors and sleepwalking are connected disorders that tend to ruin in families. If this risk exists, you should be on always on alert as the onset of the condition can come as early as 15 months. The prevalence of the disorder is higher in boys.

Night Terrors in Toddlers: Signs to Look Out For

  • The child looks highly distressed.
  • The child looks as if he’s awake and struggling with something (bear in mind that ‘awake’ appearance is an illusion when your toddler has night terrors).
  • The signs of distress occur early in the night when the child is still in or just leaving the deep sleep phase (unlike nightmares that occur during REM).
  • Your son doesn’t remember his sleep terror (he might not even awake).
  • The boy moves around actively (can cause injury).

Causes of Night Terrors in Toddlers

Aside from genetic predisposition, the exact causes of night terrors are debated. It’s believed that the disorder is caused by over-arousal of the nervous system. This can be associated with something as simple as being too excited because of some new game or a disruption of the child’s routine. Never forget that following a set daily schedule is one of the necessary parenting guidelines for a 2-year-old boy. Aside from being too excited or tired, night terrors might be caused by taking medications.

Night terrors aren’t dreams and shouldn’t be mistaken for nightmares, which are often caused by psychological trauma. This disorder shows itself as a sudden onset of fear and usually occurs when your child goes from one stage of sleep to another.

Your son won’t understand why he experiences the sudden terror and might not react to it consciously, which is why there’s such a high risk of injury. Night terrors in toddlers often develop into sleepwalking as the child ages and can last until 12 years. It’s also common for children to talk during these episodes. Again, they have no conscious control over the things they say and won’t remember what happened once they awake.

Genes seem to be the prevalent deciding factor in night terror causes. Note that there doesn’t seem to be any connection with underlying trauma or a mental disorder in children suffering from this sleep problem. However, adults suffering from night terrors are most likely to have a history of mental issues, especially bipolar and anxiety disorders.

In some cases, night terrors in toddlers can occur as a reaction to physiological issues. These include sleep deprivation, head injuries, hyperthyroidism, bloating, and fever. They can occur as a reaction to a change or disturbance in sleeping arrangements (traveling, noise, light, etc.)

Night Terrors in Toddlers: Treatments

Unlike when dealing with nightmares, a cup of hot chocolate and a hug won’t help treat night terrors. The condition doesn’t require medicinal intervention. As the child doesn’t really wake during an episode, it’s best to just wait it out.

The only thing a parent can do is to stay close and make sure your son doesn’t hurt himself by accident. The terrors should pass within a few minutes and the child will return to sleep naturally.

With no treatment available, your best bet is to try preventing night terrors in toddlers. Following a healthy routine and monitoring your child’s condition to ensure they aren’t too tired are the most effective options. You can also try introducing some specialized relaxing practices into your bedtime routine, like meditation or breathing exercises.

However, be sure to take your child to a doctor specializing in sleep problems. As night terrors can be symptoms of some serious health problems and other sleep disorders, you should go through a complete checkup to ensure that your child is completely healthy aside from the occasional night terror.