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Night terrors: Because sleep isn’t already impossible to get

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If you’ve always wanted to experience what it might like to be in a Stephen King novel, I highly recommend that you find a toddler with night terrors. There’s no experience quite like a terrified toddler in the middle of the night when you’re half-awake and disoriented. One minute you’re asleep, the next you’ve got a baby in your arms screaming like you’re a 40-foot spider.

If you’re like me and afraid of everything in your own home after midnight then night terrors can be unsettling. For this reason I did some research and put together a mostly factual guide about night terrors to highlight some understanding of the issue.

Night terrors versus nightmares
If you need a crowbar to pry your child off the couch to get them to bed, it was a nightmare. If you’re the one who’s disturbed enough to call a priest, then they probably had a night terror.

Night terrors happen within two hours after bedtime and nightmares happen much later in the night. This leaves plenty of room for your child to wake up from a nightmare the second half of the night thus doing their child duty to prevent you, parent, from getting any sleep at all.

What exactly are they?
Besides being a parent’s personal Twilight Zone (except Rod Serling is not narrating from your living room – which would actually be scary since he died in 1975), night terrors are a sudden reaction of fear that happens as your child cruises through one phase of sleep to the next. Most last anywhere from two to forty minutes.

They can start as early as 18 months, but typically occur in children beginning at age 4 or 5 and most children outgrow them by 12 years old or sooner. In children under 3 years, you can expect visits from the night terror fairy about once a week.

What will my child do?
Be agitated and restless
Not be able to wake or be comforted
Sit up or run around aimlessly
Scream or talk wildly
Won’t realize you’re there even though his or her eyes are wide open and staring
Might mistake objects or people for dangers.

When night terrors are over your child will fall back to sleep without any issues, leaving you to go back to bed and pray the rosary. In the morning, your child won’t remember what happened.

What should you do during a night terror?
Hide and hope that night terrors don’t give your child a supernatural ability to see behind walls or hear you breathing two floors down in a basement closet. Just kidding. Sort of.

You’ll probably want to wake them up, but that can make it worse, so unless you want a lot of inconsolable panicking then don’t. Remember your goal is to take them from agitated sleep to calm sleep.

Waiting it out has worked for us. Sitting in a low-lit room keeps the crying to a minimum until she’s awake. Sure it’s creepy having a blinking Chucky doll on my lap, as long as she doesn’t start to hiss at me I figure we’re okay.

How can you prevent night terrors?
Overtired tots are most likely to have them.

Overheating is another possible reason. Our daughter is well supplied with, “nature’s blanket,” better known to the layperson as, “baby fat.” We forget that she needs fewer blankets.

Calming bedtime routines help relax and ease anxiety or stress that may trigger night terrors.

Waking your child after they’ve been asleep for a little while might alter their sleep pattern – or keep them awake for four hours playing Pat A Cake and hooping like a high-pitched puppy.

Fear is scary, especially at night. Rod Serling was correct when he said: “There is nothing in the dark that isn’t there when the lights are on.”

But, everything seems worse at 1am.

Christina is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Denver with her husband, two daughters and a cat who’ll never forgive her for having children. You can find her cleaning cracker crumbs and juice spills off the dog at: raisinsandgoldfish.com

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Comments
  • comment avatar Amber Johnson June 20, 2013

    My son went through them when he was about 4….lasted intermittently for about four months. So freaky and scary. Ultimately not waking him up worked best.

  • comment avatar Mindy June 20, 2013

    Hiding in the basement closet seems like an acceptable thing to do in any situation!

  • comment avatar Lisa June 20, 2013

    Great advice. Fortunately, this is one of the few childhood dramas my boys didn’t have. The rest of the list is long, however.:)
    Love how you’ve found a way to find the humor in the fear and exhaustion. It does help to at least know what is happening rather than wondering if your child is possessed. Hang in there!

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