My daughter is waking up in the middle of the night and screaming bloody murder. It literally sounds like someone is torturing her. She is inconsolable and screams “Noooo” over and over and over again. Sound familiar? Are you dealing with something similar?
We were at such a loss.
What do we do to help her??
Some history: Waipuna has always been a great sleeper. We sleep trained her (Blog: Why My Babies Sleep Through the Night | The 5 S’s) and she slept a full 7 hours through the night at 6 weeks. She added about an hour each week thereafter until she was sleeping a full 10-11 hours each night. She’s a light sleeper, but she is a good sleeper. As long as nothing wakes her up… she sleeps soundly.
This August, at 19 months, she started getting fussy — See Blog: Why Won’t She Sleep? Trial & Error | Process of Elimination — fast-forward to our doctor’s appointment this morning. He shared a handout with us from KidsHealth.org — I’ll share with you what the doctor taught us about night terrors and information from that handout below.
What’s a Night Terror Anyway?
According to the Kids Health website a night terror is “a sleep disruption that seems similar to a nightmare, but is far more dramatic. When experiencing a night terror (sleep terror), your child’s fear was likely inconsolable, no matter what you tried. Though night terrors can be alarming for parents who witness them, they’re not usually a cause for concern or a sign of a deeper medical issue.”
Sounds about right.
There was one night where Wai screamed for TWO hours straight… while being held and comforted by her father. We really felt like we were going crazy!
Causes of Night Terrors
When your central nervous system is over-aroused, this can cause a night terror. A night terror isn’t technically a dream because it occurs more like a sudden reaction of fear during a transition from one sleep stage to another. Kids Health says that this usually occurs about 2-3 hours after the child has fallen asleep and as they transition from the deepest stage of non-REM sleep to lighter REM sleep. Usually the transition is smooth, but sometimes… it’s not. That’s when your child will experience a night terror.
How Do I Know it’s a Night Terror?
Some signs / symptoms that you may encounter:
- Shouting out or screaming in distress
- Thrashing around
- Acting upset or scared
- Happens in the first 2 to 3 hours of sleep
- Faster breathing & a quicker heart rate
- Suddenly sitting upright in bed
- No memory of the night terror the next day. They are in deep sleep so there are no mental images to recall.
Who Gets Night Terrors?
Statistics show night terrors are pretty rare. They only happen in 3-6% of children. They usually occur in kinds between the ages of 4 and 12 years old but have been reported in babies as young as 18 months (that would be WaiWai). Some kids inherit the tendency for night terrors – 80% who have them have a family member that sleepwalks or also has them (that would be WaiWai too!). Most of the time night terrors disappear on their own as the nervous system matures. Statistics also show that night terrors tend to happen in kids that are:
- Taking new medicine
- Not getting enough sleep
- Having too much caffeine
What Can I do to Help my Child?
If you’re like me, you felt HELPLESS. It’s not a good feeling when your child says – No, SCREECHES - “Nooo” to every single thing you offer as comfort. Bunny? “Nooooo” Bottle? “Nooooo” Boobie? “Nooooo” Mommy? “Nooooo” … you get the idea.
So what can we do to help our kids? It’s best NOT to wake your child during a night terror. Simply wait it out and make sure your child is safe during their “episode” of thrashing / screaming. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for night terrors, BUT you can help to prevent them by:
- Reducing your child’s stress
- Creating a bedtime routine that is simple and relaxing
- Make sure your child gets enough rest
- Help your child from becoming overtired
- Don’t let your child stay up too late
- If your child has a night terror around the same time each night, you can try to wake them up 15 to 30 minutes prior to that time and see if it helps prevent it.
- If the night terrors do not stop… see your doctor.
** I also have some tips in my blog “Why Won’t You Sleep??” - We used trial and error to figure out a routine that would work for baby and get her back on track. **
How is a Nightmare Different?
According to KidsHealth.org, nightmares tend to happen in the early morning hours (the later part of the night’s sleep). Children will wake from a nightmare and feel scared or upset but will respond to comfort from a parent. They can usually remember part of the nightmare afterward and may be reluctant to go back to sleep and need comfort from a parent to feel safe. Jackson had these all the time and he was always easily consolable and went right back to sleep after some comfort from mommy and daddy.
Well guys… I really appreciated receiving this information today so I thought I would share it. If you are going through night terrors – hang in there. We’re all just trying to be the best parents we can be! Hopefully, it will pass. For us, we think it was a combination of night terrors and perhaps something else… we’re aren’t totally sure but we did manage to get her sleeping through the night again after two months of restlessness, irritability and plain grumpiness (on our part due to lack of sleep LOL). She was always perfectly happy during the day! Go figure! I’ve blogged about our process of elimination using trial and error to try to figure out how to deal with our sleep issue. I’m not expert but perhaps our “case study” will at least give you an idea for something you haven’t tried yet that may work for you and your child. xoxo Life’s Swell!!