Family Life · Health

Dealing with Night Terrors

A few months ago, when J was away, the children had been in bed for a few hours, when I heard the familiar sound of my eldest (K) moving around and chatting to herself. I went into her room, to find her sitting looking at the doorway. I walked over to say goodnight and tuck her in again when she asked, “Who’s that lady?”

“What lady?’ I replied.

“The lady standing over there by the door.” She said, pointing to where I had just come.

Even though I was used to this now, I still shuddered and turned to look, and, seeing nothing there, turned back to my daughter who was now back under the covers with eyes closed. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night!!

Buzymum - Dealing with Night Terrors

The night terrors started when K, at 2 ½, first started to wake in the night, screaming, shouting and crying, while wandering around the house looking genuinely terrified, it was more than a little worrying. During these episodes, she would act as if I wasn’t there, literally looking straight through me, and did not respond to any sort of comforting. We would try to cuddle her, she would stay stiff and if anything, push away. Her eyes were open but she had a look that wasn’t hers, almost a different child. I can understand how, years ago, people may have thought this was some sort of demon and that a child had been possessed!!

At first I thought she was having bad dreams and immediately considered anything going on in her life, that I maybe hadn’t been made aware of, as she was in child-care a couple of days /week. Nothing came up, and she seemed blissfully unaware of waking, remaining a happy, cheeky and very active toddler.

Initially, these episodes happened once or twice a fortnight, but over a couple of months, they became more frequent and from the age of 3 to 6, she would have them most nights. However, you could generally set your watch by them and luckily for us, they rarely happened after midnight. I have heard stories of children being up 4-5 times a night!

At this point, we were really beginning to worry about what was causing this. I questioned her as much as I could, thinking every mother’s worst nightmare of some sort of abuse happening in her life, but nothing made sense. I talked to friends with children, but no one had experienced the same. It was the ‘not wanting to be comforted’ and ‘looking straight through you’ that no one could sympathize with. Then, a friend gave me a book about children and sleep, which documented exactly what we were going through.

Alleluia!! At last I could understand this condition, and I could put to rest any worries, that something was wrong. This is what I learnt:

  • Children go into a deeper level of sleep than we do as adults (lucky things!)
  • The transition into this level of sleep happens between 1½- 2 hours after falling asleep
  • It is at the transition stage that some children can be triggered into having a ‘night terror’ by anything that may disturb them. However, my experience is that no trigger was needed!
  • They usually grow out of it at around 5 years of age

It was at this point that we began to build strategies to best deal with her while she was ‘night terroring’. Lou was born just after all of this started, so we had to consider her in all of this as well!

Night terror Strategies:

  • Watch but try not to interfere – This is really hard but I found that when I tried to cuddle her, she got more irritated.
  • Do not wake them up- She could take hours to settle if she was woken during an episode. I could tell immediately if she woke, as she became ‘her’ again, her eyes changed, she cuddled, but was extremely distressed.
  • Talk in a calming voice with low volume, even if they are screaming. I think that subliminally, hearing a familiar, comforting voice, helps to calm the situation.
  • I repeated phrases like ‘it’s alright’ ‘mummy’s here’ etc. Sometimes I sang her favorite nursery rhymes. I’m not sure how much this helped, but I couldn’t stand there and do nothing!
  • Once calmed, try to guide back to bed. Sometimes she would just sit bolt upright but stay in bed, other times, she would lead us on a merry dance around the house!
  • The big yawn would always signify that it was over!

Gradually, the screaming became less frequent and we could understand some of what she said, during a night terror. The majority of this was nonsense but as she has gotten older, we have had full conversations with her, in her sleep. Up until the age of about 6 she would still appear frightened of something. At around 6½ things had really settled down and we had a good 8-10 months of no terrors. Then, her appendix burst (a traumatic experience I may share with you in the future, as we were on holiday at the time and she was undiagnosed for a week!!) causing her to need a full laparotomy, twice. During her illness and recovery, she began to suffer with the night terrors again.

Two and a half years on, the major terrors are far less frequent and generally signify stress, illness and tiredness. It is however, very common to hear her chatting away in the middle of the night.

“Mum, mum, help me, you need to help!” she says, crawling around her bedroom floor.

“What’s the matter, have you lost something?” I kneel down next to her.

“We need to save my toys from the giant snails!”

Here we go again!………………..

Does your child suffer with night terrors or something similar? What works best for you when dealing with them? Does something in particular seem to trigger them?

Diary of an imperfect mum
DomesticatedMomster
A Mum Track Mind

32 thoughts on “Dealing with Night Terrors

  1. Awww bless her how hard this must be on you to see and watch these happeneing. My little boy had something similar but he always woke, even though he was fully awake he though things were hiding under his bed. its their little imaginations working in over drive.

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  2. Oh my word, this sounds awful! My toddler has dreams occasionally and I’ve had to stay at the side of the bed doing what you did and singing in a soothing voice so he knew I was there. I found it really difficult not being able to wake him but your little one was at a whole new level, it sounds so traumatic! I’m glad she’s out of it and also well done to your friend for finding a solution for you in the book! x

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  3. Absolutely! Once you know what it is, and that you are not the only one, it makes it so much easier to cope with. It’s more of a source of amusement in our house now!! x

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  4. Oh bless her! We get nightmares quite often in this house, usually due to over tiredness, or over excitements. I think so far we’ve missed proper night terrors for the most part, I do know a few friend’s whose children have woken up shrieking. Not fun. H x

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  5. aww bless you, we suffered with this with our then 3 year old now five year old who seems to have grown out of it, although we occasionally have an episode. Our son started waking and sleepwalking which led us to install an Angelcare monitor so an alarm would go off if he left bed. So not fun.x

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    1. My worry is that K may try to get out of the house! Since having the kids, I’m a relatively light sleeper so hear her as soon as she get’s up- we do chain the front door though as the rattle of that would definitely wake me!!

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  6. Oh my gosh, this is one of be most extreme cases of night terrors I’ve ever read but well done you for finding good strategies! Toby’s 20 months old and has always been a ‘wake up screaming’ kind of child but lately he’s not awake when he go into him so I think he’s having nightmares, although nothing this severe. Sorry to hear about the burst appendix nightmare, how awful for your poor girl xx

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  7. I read this with interest as *I’m* the one with night terrors in our family!! Not my children!! I often wake my poor husband up, shrieking that there’s someone in the room. It’s SUCH a hard thing to deal with. I seem to have grown into them, rather than grow *out* of them. Fingers crossed your little girl manages to shake them off and grows out of it xx

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    1. Thanks Caro. Poor you! Apparently, I used to walk and talk especially during my GCSE’s but never scream. I’m hoping it’s not something she’ll have to live with as an adult. xx

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  8. Oh bless her, night terrors are so awful. My daughter used to wake up in hysterics and talking complete gibberish. She was still asleep half the time, but whatever she had dreamt was obviously very real to her. She seems to have grown out of it now, thankfully. But it’s not nice at all while it lasts 😦 Hope your little one passes through this phase soon.

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  9. Bless her, this sounds awful (for you mainly). We are yet to experience them, but have close friends that have so know what you’re going through. Fingers crossed it passes soon x

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  10. Excellent to raise awareness of this because it can be really scary for parents to witness. I’ve suffered with night terrors my whole life, my sisters tell me they used to have full conversations with me in my sleep, I would often have terrible nightmares (which I remember) and wake in another room not knowing how I got there. As a young adult I had awful violent night terrors if I was over tired and suffered a state of paralysis with it. I still get them every so often but it’s much rarer now. I thought I was going mad at the height of it but after seeing the GP, I realised this was what we call night terrors and it’s not uncommon. Very unpleasant though X

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  11. wow,that must have been to hard. My little girl has woken up crying in her sleep, like a scared cry and it was weird, then she fell back asleep. also she has cried in her sleep before, sounded horrible. Thanks for sharing this, I may need it for future reference if it happens again. #FamilyFun

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  12. Oh my goodness! That sounds full on. Thank you for sharing your experience… I am sure this will help to reassure plenty of parents. We had a period of a few months where our little one would sit up and cackle with laughter, eyes open, but as you described…not actually there/awake. As she wasn’t in distress, quite the opposite, it was a lot easier to deal with. Though even now, if we are downstairs and hubby thinks he can hear her up, he panics that she might be sleepwalking. #FamilyFun

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  13. I had a daycare child with night terrors and when he would have to spend the night it was traumatizing to hear him screaming and knowing I couldn’t help him. I was just thankful that he never remembered them come morning. #momsterslink

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  14. Oh these are the worst! That whole, “looking straight through you and not wanting comfort” that was my youngest son when he was 3 years old. He’s nine now but I still remember the first one. I was so scared for my boy and I jumped to the same conclusion you did. He was also in preschool every day while I was taking college courses and my first worry was that something was happening at school. As it turned out, he was having them at preschool too. I took him to the doctor the next day and asked so many questions. Even after finding out it wasn’t because of abuse or anything like that, I still had a hard time leaving him be while he was going through it. I did the same thing you did. I sang to him and waited for each episode to end before going back to bed myself. Now, he just talks in his sleep every now and then and doesn’t remember a thing when he wakes up but at least he’s not screaming bloody murder anymore. Those nights were so, so scary! #momsterlink

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  15. Oh bless her, and poor you! They must be so distressing for you to have to watch, although it sounds like you know the right things to do by now. Also does it not completely freak you out when she says there’s someone by the door?! I’ve got goosebumps just typing this!! #fortheloveofBLOG

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  16. Aw poor thing, I can really sympathise! I have been having night terrors since as far back as I can remember. They peaked around aged 18 for me and then simmered down to only times of stress, excessive tiredness and illness like you mention. I’m nearly 30 now and I rarely get them, probably only once or twice a year. I guess I must also be a deep sleeper. Thanks for writing about this – I think it’s not something a lot of people understand so it’s good to raise a bit of awareness in case others suffer and wonder what on earth is going on. #fortheloveofBLOG x

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  17. Ok the beginning of your post really freaked me out. I wouldn’t have slept well that night either. And even still knowing what it is leaves me a little freaked. My son sleep walks and he is 6. The other night he came into my room laughing hysterically but wasn’t responding to me asking what he was laughing about. He’s does this quite a few times…sometimes crying…sometimes laughing. I usually just walk him back to his bed and he crawls in and goes right back to sleep. The only time we have a problem is when he has to use the bathroom and it seems to upset him a lot more. Strange. Thanks for linking up with #momsterslink.

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