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When Children Dream – Our Experience of Night Terrors

I have often wondered what my children dream about at night. I hope that in their slumber they go off to some fantastical place where castles float high above the clouds, and the furniture is made from candyfloss and lollipops. Where everyone is always kind and considerate and people move from one place to another riding multicoloured unicorns. Where breakfast everyday consists of birthday cake, ice cream and milkshake. Because in this dream land teeth are always strong and pearly white, and no one ever gets cavities!

But the reality is that at least one of my children dream of much darker things. Things that they can’t explain the following morning because, thankfully, they don’t remember. At first we thought he was just experiencing nightmares. But after several nights of finding him stood, seemingly still asleep, in the middle of his room shouting at ‘things’ we realised that what he was actually experiencing was night terrors.

When Children Dream – What is the difference between Nightmares and Night Terrors?

It is easy to think that nightmares and night terrors are just different names for the same thing but it turns out that’s not the case at all. A nightmare is by all accounts and purposes just a bad dream (although I feel bad saying ‘just a bad dream’ as for the person having one it’s not a nice experience at all). But, a nightmare IS a dream, and the person IS asleep and going through the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep stage when they have them.

Night terrors, on the other hand, are technically not dreams as they do not occur during the REM stage of sleep. A night terror generally occurs within the first few hours of sleep, during the N-REM stage (Non-Rapid Eye Movement). 

One of the main ways to distinguish a night terror from a nightmare is that with a nightmare you can wake up from the dream, whereas with a night terror this doesn’t happen. Although it may seem as though the person is fully awake they are really only partially awake whilst they are going through it. Their eyes may be open, they may be lashing out at things around them, sleep walking, and even talking reasonably coherently.

When we realised that M was experiencing night terrors we did a lot of reading on how best to deal with them. I initially thought it would be best to try and gently rouse him from the experience, but all the advice suggests otherwise. So, now when he has a night terror we follow the NHS guidelines, which have been a great help. Now when he has a night terror we just let him get on with it until it’s over – a night terror will normally only last a few minutes – and then we settle him back into bed. When he wakes up the next morning he has no recollection of the night terror at all.

What do Children Dream About?

Adjustmatic beds have recently teamed up with Ian Wallace, a leading dream expert, to produce a YouTube series to look into what is actually happening within our minds while we sleep. The first video delves into the childs mind and explains some of the common themes of dreams.

It’s such a great watch, especially as, thankfully, over the past couple of months M’s night terrors have been few and far between, and he is sleeping (and dreaming!) peacefully at night. When he wakes up in the morning he is (generally) happy and rested, and will happily tell you all about his dreams from the night before.

I would love to say that his dreams are of the castles in the clouds, and multicolured unicorns that I mentioned at the beginning, but truth be told they only ever consist of three things – Darth Vader, Angry Birds and Cake! I wonder what the meaning behind that dream is? 😉 

This is a collaborative post





  1. 10th September 2016 / 7:07 pm

    Oh the poor pet. It must be horrible for you as parents to witness, nut it is great that he had no recollection of it in the morning.

    • Catherine
      12th September 2016 / 10:37 am

      It’s not nice, but it is a blessing that he doesn’t remember any of it. Thankfully he hasn’t had a night terror in weeks, so I’m hoping we’ve finally seen the back of them. xxx

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