Nightmares and Fevers in Toddlers
Toddlers with a mild to moderate fever often experience sleep disturbances. Fevers can cause your child to have both nightmares and night terrors, but the latter are slightly more common in children around ages 4 or 5 years than in toddlers 234.
Toddlers with a mild to moderate fever often experience sleep disturbances. Fevers can cause your child to have both nightmares and night terrors, but the latter are slightly more common in children around ages 4 or 5 years than in toddlers 234. If your child has a severe fever or a moderate fever that completely prevents him from sleeping, contact your doctor.
Fever Side Effect
Your toddler's fever could cause her to experience nightmares or night terrors 4. The physical stress associated with a fever wears your child out, making her unconscious mind more susceptible to her internal fears, causing nightmares. A fever also causes your toddler's body to tense and become agitated, causing night terrors -- screaming and tossing fits that occur during nondreaming sleep. In fact, according to HealthyChildren.org, night terrors occur most often due to fever and other sleep schedule disruptions. If your child has a fever and starts thrashing and crying within 2 hours of falling asleep, she demonstrates signs of a night terror.
Reducing a Fever
If your toddler has a fever of 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, Dr. Larissa Hirsch with KidsHealth recommends you call your doctor for an appointment or take your child to the emergency room. If your toddler has a fever below this temperature, still has an appetite and still appears alert, try some home treatment to reduce his fever and ward off fever-related nightmares. Never give fever-reducing medicines to your toddler without first asking your doctor. Instead, use lukewarm water to give your toddler a sponge bath. Dress him in light pajamas and cover him with a light sheet. Keep your child hydrated and rested.
Other Causes of Nightmares and Night Terrors
Several factors can make a fever-related nightmare or night terror worse or more likely to occur. Inconsistent sleep schedules or a lack of rest, especially when your toddler has a fever, increases the likelihood of her experiencing night terrors. Nightmares, on the other hand, typically originate from fears acquired during waking hours. If your child sees something scary on television, had a bad experience at school prior to getting sick or has a recurring phobia, the risk of her having a nightmare during her fever increases.
Reducing Nightmares and Night Terrors
Keeping your toddler on a normal sleep schedule prevents night terrors most consistently, during times of health and sickness. Make sure your toddler gets extra rest when he has a fever to prevent most of the fatigue associated with night terror episodes. Reducing nightmares proves more difficult since each nightmare has its roots in a specific fear. The Children's Hospital at Westmead suggests spending calm time with your child before bed 3. Read a book or engage in another relaxing activity during this time. Avoid letting your child watch exciting, overstimulating programs or movies several hours before bedtime.
- "The Toddler Owner's Manual"; Brett R. Kuhn, et al.; Quirk Books; 2005
- Women's and Children's Health Network - Child and Youth Health: Nightmares
- The Children's Hospital at Westmead; Nightmares and Night Terrors; Sept. 2008
- Healthy Children; Nightmares and Night Terrors; Nov. 2010
- Palo Alto Medical Foundation: Treating Fever
- Kids Health: Fever and Taking Your Child's Temperature; Larissa Hirsch; Aug. 2009
- Van Horn NL, Street M. Night terrors. In: StatPearls. Updated November 16, 2019.
- St. Louis, EK. Sleep and epilepsy: strange bedfellows no more. Minerva Pneumologica. 2011;50(3):159-176.
- Leung AKC, Leung AA, Wong AH, Hon KL. Sleep terrors: an updated review. CPR. 2019;15. doi:10.2174/1573396315666191014152136
- Boyden SD, Pott M, Starks PT. An evolutionary perspective on night terrors. Evol Med Public Health. 2018;2018(1):100–105. doi:10.1093/emph/eoy010
- Stanford Health Care. Arousal disorders in children.
- Cleveland Clinic. Parasomnias & disruptive sleep disorders. Updated April 22, 2017.
- Oleg Kozlov/iStock/Getty Images