The sleep process is crucial in a human’s day-to-day life, especially at a young age. Therefore, it is recommended to pay greater attention to the night’s sleep of children due to their vulnerability to stress and physical sickness (Harvey, 2021). There are several differences between a nightmare and a night terror since the caused effect and characteristics of behavior during both states may vary and can be differentiated from each other. Firstly, nightmares happen after a long sleep, usually closer to morning hours during the period of rapid eye movement. At the same time, night terrors take place during the first hours of sleep or during Stage N3, when a child experiences a deep sleep.
Secondly, when children have nightmares, they are able to wake up at night and fall asleep again after they calm down emotionally and overcome the fear. In this case, it is enough for adults to reassure a child and help to fall asleep after a bad dream. In addition, children usually remember the whole dream or at least a part of it on the other day. However, controversially, the night terrors are characterized by the significantly emotional reaction of the body and continuous sleep without remembering the dream after waking up.
This state is explained by controversial feelings of brain and body. In other words, during the night terrors, the child’s brain remains asleep while the body is still awake. Also, night terrors can be predicted due to their tendency to start at the same time of sleep. Children do not memorize the night terrors because they experience them during the phase of deep sleep.
Night terrors tend to be more dangerous due to the physical activity of a body during the night. Therefore, it is essential for parents to ensure that their child is safe in the home environment and there are no potential threats that may be harmful to a child. Children who experience nightmares may be able to stand up from the bad, go over the house or a room, emotionally react during sleep, such as screaming, active movements, or look significantly frightened. However, it is recommended not to wake a child since it may not simply stop the terror but even prolong it.
According to past years’ research works, night terrors are mostly associated with younger children, approximately before the adolescent ages. There are still some debates regarding the real reason why it is more common to children rather than adults or teenagers. On the one hand, some scientists argue that the cause of night terrors in children may be provoked by the active “growing” process of the body. It is believed that the increased volume of the growth hormones and additionally associated chemical processes in a child’s body may provoke night terrors (Boyden et al., 2018).
On the other hand, the physical expression of fear during sleep is explained by a rapid “release of stress hormones into the bloodstream,” which causes the episode of terror. Sometimes this reaction of the central nervous system is explained by the change of a sleep phase. Generally, night terrors can be caused by the genetic predisposition of a child who has a relative with a similar problem or a syndrome. The evidence shows that in the majority of cases, children who suffer from night terrors do not experience them any longer over the years.
It is essential for parents to control children’s sleep and help to prevent either nightmare or night terrors for better sleep and rest during the night. Referring to Harvey (2021), sleep habits may help improve the emotional and physical state of a child based on the regime and frequency of sleep, including the day naps in the younger ages. Researchers assume that lack or bad quality of sleep harmfully affects attention, memory, and performance of children due to the exhausting energy and emotional distress. Therefore, it is recommended to parents to outline several rules regarding the sleep habits of a child in order to improve sleep quality and avoid nightmares.
For instance, decreasing stressful conditions or causes may prevent a child from the additional stress of the central nervous system. In addition, regular bed-time and wake-up time will help to establish a correct regime and create a routine that is beneficial for the internal clock of the body. Harvey (2021) recommends removing naps from the regular timetable of children by the age of 6 and avoid usage of computers, TVs, and other electronic devices several hours prior to sleep.
To sum up, it is important for children to have a good rest and quality of sleep due to their developing organism and weak nervous system. Nightmares are originally caused by tiredness or stress experienced by children during the daytime. However, night terrors are more dangerous and should be controlled by parents since, in case of the increased regularity and frequency, it is recommended to pass the medical checkup and receive appropriate treatment from a pediatrist.
Boyden, S. D., Pott, M. & Starks, P. T. (2018). An evolutionary perspective on night terrors. Evaluation, Medicine, and Public Health, 2018(1), 100-105. Web.
Harley, H. (2021). Encouraging healthy sleep habits. National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Web.