Nightmares and night terrors can be equally frightening for both child and parent, especially when they start happening frequently. Nightmares occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep. They might vary in length, but the child will usually remember what the nightmare was about.
Night terrors, on the other hand, happen about an hour or two after the child has gone to sleep, and can last anywhere from a few moments to an hour. They happen during the non-REM part of sleep, and even though his eyes are wide open, the child is asleep the entire time. When he awakens though, he’ll have no memory of it.
But there are things you can do before your child goes to sleep and after he awakens from one of these to help calm and comfort him. Ensure that the period before bedtime is a calm, quiet and relaxing time for everyone. Babies find the voices of their parents very soothing, so talk quietly to your child before he goes to sleep, perhaps by softly singing a lullaby or telling a short story.
This will also help after the child wakes. It’s important for mom and dad to remain calm. If you’re tense, your baby will sense that and it will make it even more difficult to get him settled down again.
Be sure your can clearly hear your child if he cries out in the night. Baby monitors work great for this reason. It’s important to get to your little one as soon as possible in order to comfort and reassure him. If you should hear him cry out, don’t wake him if he hasn’t woken up on his own.
Stay with him to make sure he goes back to sleep peacefully, or wait for him to wake up. Don’t let him sleep with you after a nightmare, either. This may end up having a negative effect and giving the impression he should be afraid of his own room and bed. If it becomes habit, it could become a difficult one to break.