A tale of toddler night terrors.
As with any health subject, the best advice is from your doctor or pediatrician.
Any parent who has seen their child have a night terror fully understand where the “terror” in the name comes from. Night terrors are the most frightening experience I have had as a parent so far.
A night terror could not be confused with a nightmare. Nightmares are bad dreams and usually occur closer to waking hours and your child is fairly easy to calm. With a night terror, these occur typically in the first two hours of sleep. When a child has a night terror they wake, eyes wide, but often seem like they are hallucinating. The best I can do is describe my experience.
My oldest daughter started having night terrors just shy of 18 months. They typically occur in ages 2-6, but, we had the pleasure a little earlier. Her first night terror occurred about an hour and a half after she went to bed. She woke up screaming for mommy in a way I had never heard before. I went to get her from her crib and she was attacking me all while screaming for me. It was terrifying. I brought her in to our room and tried to calm her. Nothing worked. The more I tried to hold her or talk to her, the more she fought me off while still screaming for me. This scene went on for well over an hour. There was nothing we could do to calm her. She eventually just quieted, rolled over and went back to sleep.
The next morning I went to the internet and started searching for what this was. I was fairly certain it was a night terror but all the sites described this in older kids. Everything I read said to keep her safe but don’t interfere, she would eventually wake out of it. A few nights later it happened again. I brought my screaming, kicking, hitting child into my bed and my husband I sat near by watching her scream for us while fighting off some horrible visions. Within 15 minutes it ended and she laid down to sleep. It was the longest, most frightening 15 minutes.
Later in the week we had her 18 month check up with our pediatrician. We told him what we had experienced and he said we were doing the right thing, don’t interfere, but watch her so she wouldn’t get hurt. He was also surprised at how young she was. He told us that it is a disturbance of the third stage of sleep and that she is fully asleep when they occur even though she appears awake. He had little guidance on how to prevent them from happening but he did say they tend to happen when kids are over-tired. Also, even though they seem like horrible events, children have no memory of them at all.
Our daughter was never one for sleep, so the over-tiered scenario fit perfectly. Even as an infant she fought sleep. So, we started to set more stringent nap time rules. Every time she didn’t nap, she would have a night terror. During the peak of her episodes, we made a trip to visit family. Naturally she missed her share of naps with all the excitement and she had a night terror while we were staying at with my aunt and uncle. Two of my cousins were home from college as well. Her night terror woke the entire house. Everyone came into the living room to see what had happened. I explained what was going on and they sat and waited with me. They had agreed that it was the most horrible thing they had ever seen a child go through.
During our time in dealing with these gems of child development, we learned a few tricks in preventing them and making them resolve quicker.
- Make sure your child does not get over-tired. If they miss a nap, get them to bed early.
- Keeping background noise playing in her room seemed to help keep her asleep too. We played a nature sounds CD on repeat.
- Do not interfere during the night terror, it will just make it go on longer.
- Try to get them to sit and take a drink. It sees to wake them up. However, do not force it. If my daughter had an episode that wasn’t too violent, I could sometimes talk to her and ask her to have a drink. She would wake up while drinking, then lay down and go right to sleep.
- Remember they will not remember what had happened. To them, nothing happened, so don’t stress too much about it.
I am happy to say that my daughter is now 3-years-old and she hasn’t had a night terror in nearly a year.