Everyone's had a bad dream or two in their lifetime, but during the toddler years there is a state of sleep than can cause nightmares to go to the next level. I'm not talking about dreams of showing up to school with no clothes on — children who have night terrors are experiencing fear while in a transitional state of consciousness. Since this condition is most prominent with this age group, you may wonder what do night terrors in toddlers mean? Since your toddler may not be able to tell you (and likely won't even remember having the night terror) learning more about why this happens will help you cope, as a parent.
Watching your child panic, scream, and experience fear is gut-wrenching in any situation, but when they are in a state of sleep and unable to be awoken, it can be downright horrifying. According to the website Kid's Health, from Nemours, "night terrors are caused by over-arousal of the central nervous system (CNS) during sleep. This may happen because the CNS (which regulates sleep and waking brain activity) is still maturing." As your toddler's brain goes through this period of growth, the chances for them experiencing night terrors reaches its peak.
As it turns out, if one or both of the parents experienced night terrors, their child is more likely to have them as well. As Parents magazine pointed out, although not a lot is known about the cause of night terrors, the occurrence tends to be run in the family. Other factors which are believed to be a possible triggers for night terrors is fatigue or other sleep-related problems such as sleep apnea, according to Baby Center. So your child's night terrors could be their body's way of telling you they need more shut eye.
As the website for pediatrician Dr. Sears pointed out, although it feels scary in the moment, night terrors don't cause any harm to your child. However, you can still keep them safe by making sure they don't get hurt (if they are sleepwalking or trashing in bed) and gently guiding them back to sleep. Staying calm and remembering it will pass will help you get through this phase and assist your child in working past their night terror.