Coping with night terrors

Yet another topic from It Gets Better: Things That Rarely Happen To Older Kids: Night Terrors.*

Dawn, who has a 16-month old son, is feeling helpless about the night terrors he's experiencing. It seems like there's no real cure (as we've concluded here whenever we talk about them), so she's looking for coping techniques. And ways to not feel so helpless.

Which goes along nicely with what may be turning into this week's theme of "Sometimes it just sucks and you're really not incompetent."

So, who had or has a child who experiences night terrors? We never had them, but apparently what differentiates them from bad dreams is that a kid will wake up from a dream and be able to e comforted and talk (if they have words yet) about the dream and come back to waking life. A night terror is just possibly-not-dream-generated fear expressed with screaming and terror that a child has a really hard time coming out of and doesn't seem to have that same dreamworld-as-separate-from-awakeworld component.

Is that an accurate description, for those of you who've dealt with night terrors?

And how did you weather them? Do there seem to be things (in egenral or just for your child) that are triggers (Foods, exciting holiday times, family changes, etc.)? Or are they random?


* I apologize for the poor colon usage.

55 thoughts on “Coping with night terrors”

  1. Night terrors are related to sleep walking and there is a genetic component. If others in your family have walked in their sleep you are more likely to have children who do the same and/or have night terrors. It does not have to do with dreaming but something to do with changing from one sleep stage to another. They usually occur around one hour from going to sleep. The best advice I’ve seen is to rouse the baby/child before the normal time the terror happens. In older kids you can have them use the bathroom. For the little ones maybe just pick them up. They won’t usually wake up fully but it will be enough to disrupt the terror.My oldest (now 8) have them from around 3 to 5 and I did not know the above until the end. Boy do they suck!

  2. ours sometimes occurred several times a night, especially if over tired, beginning at about 7 months, lasting until 2.5 years. We tried to ensure adequate naps and early bed time and that REALLY helped. Also, standing by the crib saying “mommy’s here shh, shh shhh, shh shhsh, mommy’s here” very softly. Picking up didn’t help, or rocking. OH, very late in the game we tried singing a soft song, and that worked (still without picking up).Yuck, I had forgotten those nights.
    inconsolable, angry, or sounding in pain, acting awake, but not.
    I think it is stressful to the child, or at least their brains, but 3 years ago when we were going thru it a lot of the writing was that it wasn’t. I don’t buy it, and haven’t looked at this year’s research.

  3. My eldest son had night terrors. He’s 4 years old (as of August), and it’s been months since he’s had one. Not quite a year, I think there were a few in the first couple months of 2010, but it’s been a long time. If he had a particularly eventful day, or knocked his head especially hard we were pretty much guaranteed one.The best thing we could do for him was not much more than nothing. We’d be in the same room, saying “Dad’s here” or “Mom’s here” or “Mom and Dad are here” and eventually he would calm down enough to let us pick him up and hold him tight while he went back to sleep.
    It is heart-breaking, but everything we tried (picking him up, turning lights on, trying to wake him up) just prolonged it. Being close, but not touching.
    My youngest is 10 months old, and hasn’t shown any signs of night terrors but I think it probably wasn’t until after he was 1 that the oldest started into them.

  4. We tried everything for night terrors – nothing worked. My daughter had them from 18 months to 4.5 years. Our ped kept saying she would outgrow them. We finally went to the Stanford Sleep Clinic when I was about to go insane. They hooked her up to monitoring machines and they confirmed that she had classic night terrors. Sleep apnea was the cause (and the primary cause of night terrors according to the clinic). She would fall into certain stage of sleep and her airway would block. Then because her brain was trying to wake her to breathe, but her body was trying to stay asleep = night terror. The solution was to have her tonsils and adenoids removed to clear the airway. Three months after the surgery, the night terrors were gone. The three months after surgery were hell (swelling from surgery causes more night terrors) and we were afraid we made a huge mistake, but the clinic was right – three months later, no more night terrors. We have been night terror free since (she is now 8.5). Sleep apnea runs in families. My sister suffered night terrors throughout her childhood and she still suffers from sleep apnea (main symptoms: snoring and feeling tired no matter how much sleep you get because you get poor quality sleep).

  5. Matthew was in bed with us and would be unable to be comforted, nursed rocked or held. He would fight us off! We just sushed* until he calmed down enough to let me touch him, hold him, fall back asleep.He’s over three now and it seems to have stopped. We never found any triggers, but probably sleeplessness and over tired… getting him enough sleep is always a battle.
    * for my own comfort more than his, I was doing SOMETHING

  6. My daughter is 4 and has had them on and off since she was about 2. We’re usually able to anticipate them as they most often happen when she hasn’t napped and is overtired (seeing a pattern with other posters). Still, there’s not much that can be done when they happen but wait. A lot of people in my family have had them or some other sleep issue (talking, walking) in their childhoods and by 6 or so, it’s done.

  7. I wanted to clarify – my daughter had night terrors EVERY NIGHT sometimes EVERY HOUR. If we had 1 night a week without a night terror, we felt lucky. Over tired or over heated definitely made them worse, but nothing made them go away until the surgery to remove tonsils and adenoids. Sometimes sleeping in a COLD, air conditioned room helped (less airway swelling). We tried waking her an hour after sleeping, feet in cold water during, putting to bed early, putting to bed late, white noise, night light on/off, waking her every hour, talking to her, ignoring her, cold wash cloths, warm wash cloths, warm milk before bed, etc. Nothing worked and I was going insane from the sleep deprivation. I’m so glad someone finally told us to look into a sleep clinic. It was a life saver.

  8. They are awful. Absolutely awful. Screaming, crying, flailing, kicking – and it all gets worse and worse if you do anything at all. Our 2.5yo is sick and has had one every night for the last eight nights, and I’m barely holding it together. I sobbed myself through most of last night’s episode. The hardest thing for me is that I cannot comfort him. It just breaks my heart.As for triggers…usually for us it is being out of routine and not getting enough rest. Which is so frustrating, because the terrors cause him to get even less rest, which triggers another terror the next night, and so on. We also get them occasionally during daytime naps.
    No tips for getting through them except – that’s just what you do – get through them. You sit there and watch and make sure they don’t bang their head into the corner of the changing table while they are flailing around, and pray and pray and pray until it ends. In our house, my husband has started to handle most of them, because he is able to stay calmer than I am during the terror. For us, talking to him or touching him or even trying to hand him his lovey all make it worse. But so does leaving the room after he notices your presence. So we just stay and wait.
    The doctor told me they usually only last 5 or 6 minutes but feel much longer — but I know our son regularly screams for 20+ minutes. Not sure what’s going on there, but I have timed many of them and the clock (not just my sense of time) says they are much longer than 5 or 6 minutes.
    @Angela, I hadn’t heard about the breathing/sleep apnea thing, but that would be consistent with what happens in our house. My husband hasn’t been diagnosed with sleep apnea but he does snore enough that I’ve told him repeatedly he should talk to his doctor. And my son’s night terrors increase when he is sick and thus having difficulty breathing. Huh…maybe need to follow up further with that.

  9. “Yuck, I had forgotten those nights. Inconsolable, angry, or sounding in pain, acting awake, but not.”Ditto. It’s been probably a year, DS is now 3 yrs and 2 months, since he’s had one. They weren’t really predictable that I could tell, he had them every so often and I feel like there was a period where he had them with more frequency, sometimes he’d do the same thing waking up from a nap – for some reason that always freaked me out more – and then like the regular tantrums, they slowly disappeared and I hadn’t thought about it in a while.
    While never diagnosed with sleep apnea, he had what I would call chronic congestion (ear tubes and adenoids removed around his first bday) until he was two-ish and is still a mouth breather/snorer.

  10. My daughter has them, too, although not as frequently as some kids (oh, Angela, I want to weep for you!). Definitely tied to changes in sleep patterns, being over-tired, or traveling. She had one a few months ago that was so fierce and scary, I was on the verge of calling 911 when she suddenly snapped out of it and asked why my face looked so funny (it was covered in tears). It is comforting to know that she doesn’t remember them at all.My dad has a serious sleep-walking problem, so the genetic component rings true.
    We stay close to her to make sure she doesn’t injure herself with flailing, and to comfort her back to sleep when they end (which is often really easy–she just stops screaming and drops off to sleep). Otherwise, we just feel helpless.
    I am glad to know were not alone and that she’ll grow out of it. That helps so much. Oh, and she is 3.5 and has had them for a couple of years. She is also a very restless sleeper and has never slept through the night–maybe connected?

  11. My son had night terrors a few times a week for several months when he was <1 to 18 months or so. We did what they tell you NOT to do, which is wake him up. We would lay him on our bed, turn on the lights, turn off the static (that was a sleep cue in our house) and would sit next to him and watch him scream until he eventually calmed down and seemed to arouse from his sleeping state into a calm awake. If we left the lights off and tried to just wait, it lasted much longer (closer to 20-30 minutes) but if we turned the lights on and waited for him to wake up slowly, it was a more manageable 10 minutes. (We followed this by treating it as a new bedtime routine. Read more books, etc. Writing about it is making me remember how CRAZY it felt to be doing bed time routine a second time at 11 or 12, but it was the only way we could get him to calmly return to sleep).He did (and still does at ALMOST 4) wake up several times a night and needs a LOT of assistance staying/going to sleep, but he does not have night terrors any more, thank goodness. I can't say we ever figured out a trigger for his terrors, but his nightwaking problems have been caused or exacerbated by his severe asthma and reflux, so it is possible that the improvement of those problems helped stem the problem.
    In a related note (no pun intended) two of his cousins also have had night terrors.

  12. DS had night terrors at naptime only. We figured out that he was overtired from teething his molars. Once the molars came in they disappeared. My best guess was that teething made him sleep poor at night and it carried over to his nap somehow. We never woke him. Just stayed there to keep him safe until he would go back to sleep on his own. It was horrid.My husband was a sleepwalker. My nephew (his side) had night terrors for years. He could never nap well and was chronic overtired. I am expecting my DS to sleepwalk once he goes to a bed. Thankfully the dog will let us know he is on the move. 🙂

  13. No personal experience, but I just wanted to mention that I have a friend (in his 30s) who has night terrors triggered by red food dye. He’s had them since he was a kid, and his mom finally figured out the trigger after YEARS. He is just really strict with himself about artificial coloring, but occasionally will still have night terrors if he accidentally eats some.

  14. My son had a short episode of frequent night terrors when he was around 18 months old. He would start screaming in his sleep, and when we went into his bedroom his eyes were open and he was fluidly moving around, but he was not “there.” It was like he was totally checked out. Very creepy and unsettling, and it really upset my normally unflappable husband.Like so many others have said, the only trigger we could really identify was that it seemed to happen when he was unusually tired. I do remember that the holidays were an especially bad time. And there wasn’t anything to be done. Once he was over the hump and I could tell we were through the worst, I would put him on my lap and rub his back up and down the spinal column, really hard. Almost like a massage. That seemed to help him center and calm down more quickly, but I don’t know if it really helped. It helped me to feel like I was doing something.
    Kids brains are weird.

  15. My four-year-old daughter gets them from time to time, and has for the last year. They tend to happen when she’s overtired, like when her grandparents come to visit and she’s been kept up late. She just starts crying inconsolably, usually not talking either. We’ll come in and she’ll be unresponsive, but just crying and crying. Our procedure is to go in there, turn on the light, and just talk to her soothingly. When she eventually calms down, my husband will tell her jokes until she starts to laugh at them, which tells us she’s snapped out of it. We’ve asked her about it the next morning and she never remembers it.I don’t really sweat it. My brother was a sleepwalker, and my husband does things in his sleep, too (and suffers from sleep paralysis from time to time), so I’m pretty used to it. The biggest thing for us is security. We just learned that, when awake, she can unlock and open the front door. So, in addition to the alarm system we’ve always had, we recently put a chain on the door as well that is way out of her reach.

  16. My daughter, who is 7, had a night terror a few weeks ago – her first in a long time. She had them occasionally (every couple of months) in the 3-4 year zone, which is when they are supposed to be most common.For my daughter the classic associations, overtired and too hot (too much covers or fever) are there. Now that she is older, though, they are atypical for night terrors in that my daughter seems to know I am there and can carry on conversations with me, responding appropriately to things I say. But she still tenses up and kicks and tries to get away from me and cries and shrieks. She doesn’t remember a thing in the morning, which is my saving grace – she really is pretty much unconscious, even though she can carry on a conversation.
    They last at least a half an hour, and really suck, still. Every night would kill me.

  17. My son’s seem to be less from overtired and more from overstimulated. The only thing that’s ever worked is sticking a boob in his mouth (which can be scary when he is flailing!), but our pediatrician made a suggestion for heading them off that has worked so far (it’s only been a month and he never had them predictably, so who knows). Every night at bedtime we talk about his day, so that he can process as much of it as possible BEFORE he goes to sleep. It kind of seems TOO easy, but I like doing it whether it stops the night terrors or not.

  18. My daughter had night terrors, from age 2 until around 7, lessening over time. Then she had just one when she was 9, and hopefully that was the last one. They were far worse/more traumatic for us than for her, of course. I never could figure out what triggered them, even though she had them a few times a week for about 2 years. It didn’t seem to be related to how tired she was, or the temperature, or events of the day, or anything. They just were. We pretty much had to wait for her to outgrow them.Thank goodness my son, now 5, has never had one. I was really (really!) dreading going through that again.

  19. Both my 3.5 year old and my 9 month old have them. I know, in a baby? But everything seems to fit. We don’t get much sleep around here.

  20. Yes, we had random screaming nights starting way before I thought my son was old enough to have night terrors (just several months old maybe?) It didn’t help to hold him and we couldn’t really wake him (and if we did it was a completely different type of terror and we still got no sleep). As he reached talking age, I found that I could talk him down. I’d try to redirect him into a pleasant dream- suggesting a story line. “You are in a big field and a hot air balloon is there. The worker says you get to take a ride. When you climb in….”He’s six and hasn’t had one in about a year, and his brother hasn’t had so much as a bad dream ever; he sleeps much more deeply I think.

  21. My daughter suffered from night terrors from age 18 mos. to about 3.5 years. She is now 7.5 and I had almost forgotten about them until now. I never had night terrors as a kid, but was a sleepwalker. We have found her sleepwalking a few times and her father had horrible sleep apnea until he got his tonsils/adenoids out at age 34. My son has only had one night terror and he is now 4.5. Thank goodness, because they are awful!

  22. My brother had them from age 2 or 3 until he was 11. His pre-K teacher alerted my mom to a possible cause (he was getting sick) and that’s what it was–my mom knew to expect a fever in 24-36 hrs. He used to run from room to room looking for something, but did not recognize any of us. My stepfather used to coax him back into bed–he’d slip into another part of his sleep cycle, eventually, and not remember anything in the morning.My daughter had them as an infant (6-12 months, give or take). She’d just scream and cry in her sleep. But she would be in a sleeping posture, wouldn’t budge from that. It could last 10-60 minutes. Nothing to do.
    My son gets them now–for the past yr or so (from 3 1/2). We cannot figure out why, although sometimes it seems to happen when he’s hot (from the weather). It starts with a terrible cry; when you go to him, he’s shaking like he’s having a terrible adrenaline rush. He is completely incapable of saying what’s wrong–he just cries and cries. Sometimes I can get him to focus enough to say who I am, but I think that just makes ME feel better. Takes 10-20 minutes to resolve. I am sure that one day the police are going to appear on my doorstep because of this crying. It’s THAT awful.

  23. I can’t exactly remember when DD started having night terrors, but if she did in the early years they were few and far between. She had them bad from about 2.5 to 3.5, actually peaking at around 3.5 and now at almost 4 ( in Jan) she hasn’t had any since the summer. Her NT’s at their peak lasted 40 minutes or so and were more terrifying for me than for her ( she never remembered them the next day) I read somewhere the peak is actually around 3.5.From my research on the subject I also found out:
    they can be associated with night-dryness. When kids are learning to hold on at night they may have an episode around the time they would be reeady to pee. Make sure they do a wee before goign to bed, whether they wear a nappy or not to bed. I found suggesting a wee during an episode did help shorten it,when she was receptive of course which was usually a good 10 minutes into the terror.
    Night terrors and actually more closely related to sleep walking than nightmares seeing both phenomena happen during the same sleep phase (a part of non-REM sleep). In fact my son did a bit of sleep walking at around 3.5 – 4 and each walk ended up in a trip to the toilet or a quick piss on the carpet! So, yeah, probably related to night dryness too.
    Extreme tiredness can result in NTs which I found was the case for DD. DD went through a period of fighting naps like the plaque and the only reason I never gave into her was that a napless day always resulted in a NT. The times she skipped a npa I would try waking her about half an hour before her NT was terror ( always the same time each night) and that occasionally re-booted her system. Of course then she was grumpy as all hell and she’d threw a enormous fit, but hey, at least it wasn’t a NT.

  24. My DS has had them since he was nine months. He is now almost two and they have finally started to subside. Reflux, sinus issues, overtired, or overheated seem to be his triggers. I finally put a pillow in his crib to prop him up while he sleeps and that has helped a lot.If I let him cry in his crib he will wake up his twin brother so I bring him downstairs or to my room and put him on the floor. Or the couch if he isn’t flailing too much. You can’t hold them or make them feel better, just wait until the screaming stops. At least on the floor I lay down next to him on the pillow and it makes me feel better.

  25. My son (now 3.5) had them for a while and there was never anything I could do to get him out of it other than wait. I’d let him know I was there, but sometimes it was worse if I stayed in the room. We always knew when he was having one because he was inconsolable or he’d ask for something and then refuse it when it was brought to him.The only thing that I linked to him having NTs was boxed macaroni and cheese. Once we cut it out the NTs went away. He didn’t have it for about 6 months and when he was reintroduced to it (accidentally at a friend’s house) he was fine. This was just our experience – it could very well have been a stage he was going through and the mac and cheese didn’t have anything to do with it… My brother also had NTs so it does run in the family.

  26. My now nearly three year old daughter has had night terrors from about 17 months, as in authentic with all the symptoms and a sort of precursor thing much earlier from eight months. She’d be rigid and scream and cry in the middle of the night for an hour.In fact come to think of it she did the same thing as when she had colic. Started at two and a half weeks and that was like passing the Equator on a boat. 4.30 PM until midnight for months.
    In addition to the night terrors she also woke up three times minimally for feeding etc. all the way along until 16.5 months. That’s when she packed the breastfeeding in abruptly and she still woke up and I didn’t know what to do to settle her. We co-sleep.
    Sorry for the digression. She’s had nightmares as in obvious ones, in a different part of the sleep cycle since 2.4. In those she wakes up screaming and crying but she’s not in that weird half-state of not conscious but not asleep.
    In her case the trigger is abundantly clear by now. It’s separation from Daddy.Or forthcoming separation from him.
    She seems like normal during the daytime and then at night, wham! I honestly thought I’d lost my mind and that I’d harm her during the 8-12 month precursor phase. And I was alone of course too.
    Today daddy went away overnight. We never mentioned it to each other, the adults that is, and she still had a huge nightmare last night. Tonight there will be a night terror/and or nightmare.
    If he’s away for long, as in more than a week she becomes so overwrought with the pressure within that daytime horrendous melt-down tantrums happen. That’s very rare.
    In fact she is much more amenable and cooperative when I am single parenting her, as though she doesn’t want to upset me. I do try to keep everything routine wise the same and I have learned to pace myself more too. Unlike in the first year I don’t try to do anything but survive during those times.
    There is improvement, in that she calls her toy bunny Daddy when DH is away and talks to him. She’s coming around to talking to DH on the phone, which she absolutely refused to do, or listen to him before.
    I try ! I really do to get her to talk about daddy and his being away during the day. I’m available. I give extra hugs etc.
    I don’t know why she keeps it all in and gets whacked by her sub-conscious like this. She’s always been alert, it was on her hospital notes after she was born, and takes an awful lot in.
    Has a great memory for places she’s been or for places where things are kept in friends’ houses even though we go rarely.
    She’s not a sleeper, wakes up several times a night, needs to co-sleep and hasn’t napped unless she’s ill since 18 months. In fact she has once slept all the way through from 8PM to 8AM and I was worried she was ill. Growth spurt. In nearly three years.
    But there is a most definite trigger and source of stress. DH has changed jobs and travel is less frequent but it’s there. Thing is though that many of his colleagues commute by train and car and only see their off-spring in the week-end without this.
    It distresses me hugely to see her miss him. My father died when I was nine and I see myself in her, afterwards, being good as gold in the daytime and with torturous nightmares. There was no talking about it in the daytime and there was no supportive parent, so I imagined that my daughter would not suffer the same way.
    Writing that I realise that it’s not the same thing of course. She’s a toddler, and very dependent on her parents.She’s not 9.
    She is very securely attached, or so the social workers at the Sure Start thing say, but in one toddler gym class the mummies laid down so the toddlers could pretend to roll the rubber inflatable tube as a rolling pin. All the tots laughed, my daughter was hysterical and screaming for mummy. Had to be convinced I was all right.
    Anyhow, night terrors, trigger. I stay close and say soothing words to soothe me and know when I can expect them, that helps. It helps enormously not to be asleep when they strike. Nightmares are far easier to deal with.

  27. My parents would put me on the toilet and if I would pee or poop then I would snap out of it. My son, however, just gets more crazy if I try to make him go to the bathroom.I just hold him and say “mommy is holding you. mommy is here.” He seems to be in pain and distress and says “i want mommy”. Then if I just do the mantra “mommy is holding you. mommy is here” it seems to like he just snaps out of it in 10 minutes or so. If I try to “get through to him” then it just goes on longer and longer.

  28. This is all such great information, thank you! I had night terrors as a child and knowing that they can run in families (along with sleepwalking, which we have, too) makes a lot of sense. My son is just a toddler with no NTs yet, and hopefully it will pass him by.My mom said when I had NTs (around age 3.5) that a drink of water would bring me out of it, FWIW.

  29. I don’t think baby has night terrors–she wakes a lot but no extensive crying–but hubby bounds out of bed in his sleep at least once a week, screaming and swearing. Sometimes he looks under the bed for baby, or insists someone’s in the corner of the room. I keep hoping his nighttime craziness will skip baby altogether, but I’m on the lookout for any signs…If it helps, a friend of mine’s oldest daughter has night terrors from time to time, and the only thing that calms her down is to have her look out the window and name off what they see. “There’s Daddy’s car, See the tree in Grandma’s yard? And there’s the street light.” It somehow helps her daughter focus and slowly come around.

  30. Angela, such great info! While my daughter no longer has terrors, she never seems rested, sleeps with her neck hyper-extended and snores. She did get an xray evaluatd by a pediatric eent guy, who also did a cursory physical exam, and did a month course of steroid nose spray, but he felt her tonsils and adenoids were normal, and we felt the spray didn’t change anything.

  31. Our son has night terrors. He started around 16 months and still has them, however they have gotten better. Best thing to know is they are the worst on the parents, the child has no memory of them. That made me feel better, because I knew he was actually okay. One of the first things I did was start tracking when they happened and then take note of what we did and ate that day. I traced my sons back to tv. He only watches Sid the Science Kid and once in a while Toy Story (just the first 15 minutes of it). Once we cut it completely out they almost completely stopped. After talking with my mom and even thinking about now, if I watch to much tv I have dreams all night.Coping with it. Well like I said once I knew that he wasn’t remembering these incidents that made it a lot easier on us. So, when he wakes screaming, before we do anything we look at him, if they don’t look directly at you (eye contact) it is a night terror. We just let him go thru it and just stand back and make sure he is safe (not falling or anything). Once we started letting it run its course they ended faster and also didn’t usually happen more than once in a night.
    Hope it gets better for you, they are rough!

  32. My son just turned 3 and has had them, or something similar, sporadically since he was a year old. For my son they seem to be triggered by strawberries or artificial flavour/colour or dairy, or especially a combo of them (strawberry flavoured milk being the worst culprit).What finally helped clue me in to the food connection was him also having a similar reaction when AWAKE midmorning (in public, of course) a few hours after ingesting the same things. An out of character freaky tantrum on steroids over a trivial thing, with the same don’t-touch-me, flailing, panicky, frantic, inconsolable behaviour of the night terrors.
    With both night terrors or these weird extreme day tantrums, what has worked best for getting him to come out of it quicker is to quietly, calmly, monotonously talk near him (not to him, more to myself), reciting stuff we did that day in minute, mundane detail. For night, he seems to come back to himself in about 10 minutes if I do that, instead of 45mins if I try to help or console or ignore. Day/awake ones will last less than 5mins if I do that, or about 15 without.
    At least, this is what I think is going on. Maybe it’s coincidence, and I am deluding myself or imagining connections. But at least when I avoid known trigger foods, and talk calmly during theses episodes, it makes me feel I am doing something to help and also keeps me calm too. Before I found our solutions and triggers, the helplessness had me in tears every time.

  33. This is fascinating. DS (almost 3) has been having night-terrors lately, of the crying kind. You can’t get through to him, and he’s hyper-sensitive, physically and emotionally. Being touched is absolutely awful for him; not holding him is awful for me. Just sitting there with him while he cries and cries is terrible.FWIW, I sleepwalked as a kid, and I feel like I know the state he’s in: hypersensitive to all sensory input, confused, cranky, unable to snap out of it. I remember it was especially strong when I was sleep-deprived in the newborn days.
    A few more data points: my dad has sleep apnea, my son had vicious colic that I’m now (reading this comment thread) thinking might have been sleep terrors, and DS has had a bad cold lately, at the same time as he’s been getting the terrors.

  34. My now 4 year old son had two night terrors when he was a toddler, and thankfully I’d just learned about them on a parenting tv show so I could help him through the episode (my poor husband was distraught.) I brought him into the bathroom with the light on and poured cool water over his feet to help him cool down, talking to him calmly all the while. That worked quickly for him, and I immediately cut all the feet out of his footie pajamas and was extremely careful about him overheating at night. They happened when he was extremely overtired, exactly 90 minutes after he’d fallen asleep.I was a sleepwalker as a young child. My mother tells me stories of my sleepwalking escapades and she put a lock on the outside of my door to keep me safely in my room. I don’t believe I did any sleepwalking after my tonsils and adenoids were removed when I was 5.

  35. I’ve had night terrors (not officially diagnosed but it seems to match) as an adult and remember some from a kid. For me, I know I am awake but I am scared, usually because I think someone is watching me. It helped when I started reminding myself before I went to sleep that it’s not real. Of course, that was in my twenties. (Grad school, when it was happening almost every night.)

  36. My son had them. They were as terrible as you can imagine. I would put a cold washcloth on his head and sometimes that would snap him out of it.

  37. My daughter had night terrors from quite small to about 4.5 yrs. Happily she seems to have outgrown them. I want to second, third and fourth a lot of what everyone’s saying here, which is that there wasn’t much we could do while she was flailing and screaming, just keep shushing and repeating “mummy’s here”. Eventually she’d come around, but very disorientating and exhausting for everyone. No solutions, but great empathy for what Dawn and her family are going through.What caught my eye was Angela’s comment on tonsils/adenoids. DD (now 6) was diagnosed about 2 years ago with PFAPA (periodic fever syndrome) which is a whole other barrel full of laughs (not), but is also linked sometimes to tonsil/adenoid problems. The specialist we’ve been seeing hasn’t asked us about night terrors and I didn’t bring it up, but I think I’ll bring that up the next time we meet. I learnt something that might help her, thank you!

  38. Our daughter had night terrors from about age 1.5 or 2 ( I am not sure when they really started because I didn’t know what they were for so long) until she was about 3.25 when they abruptly stopped. She is almost four now so we may not be out of the woods but she has only had one in the last four months or so. We actually had a referral to the sleep clinic here when they stopped…Previously to that she was a good sleeper (we mostly co-slept) and still she has some trouble falling asleep and rarely sleeps through the night. But, now when she wakes she just wants me to climb into bed with her (which I do) and isn’t screaming, thrashing, etc.
    I can totally empathize and I wish I had some advice…I don’t…but, once a friend said something that stayed with me: parenting doesn’t stop just because they are asleep. I had to get over the idea that once everyone was in bed I was off duty. It is hard not to feel resentment, much less frustrating, especially when you are so damn tired. But, it does end and the best we can do sometimes is make sure they don’t hurt themselves during night terrors and try to sleep when we can…go to sleep early or sleep in late…nap when you can…treat yourself to a massage or whatever is relaxing to you…
    My best to you!

  39. My DS’s night terrors were linked to having a full bladder. He had them from around 18 months until 3 years, and I could almost always trace them to drinking too much right before bed.Now that he’s been potty trained for a long time, it’s much better because he’ll get up himself, go pee, and then go back to bed.

  40. My son has night terrors – they started at about 16 months old, and he is now 22 months old. The first one was terrifying, and it lasted about 40 minutes. I was holding him, getting ready to dial the phone to call his doctor (I had no idea what was wrong), and he just abruptly stopped. For him, being overtired is a HUGE trigger. When he is having them, nothing seems to make it better, so I have no choice but to stand by and wait. Ick.

  41. A few months back (in May I think?) there was a similar discussion going on here and someone mentioned confusional arousals and the book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Dr. Richard Ferber. It saved my sanity! I can’t remember what the book said was the difference between night terrors and confusional arousals, but the information helped me enormously when we were going through a terrible week of sleep that was the result of jet lag. I know people throw around Ferber’s name as being the “cry-it-out guy,” but the book is so much more than that, and he honestly doesn’t advocate any one sleep solution over any other. Just having some great basic information about normal sleep cycles and kids’ sleep patterns has been helpful in a lot of ways.Also, “sometimes is just sucks and you’re really not incompetent” has been my personal parenting theme all week, so thanks for reminding me I’m not alone, Moxie!

  42. I had night terrors as a child. My parents used to feed me ice cream to help me wake up – the cold would wake me up, then I’d have something sweet to taste. I think having something nice happen really helped to displace whatever awful dream-that-I-couldn’t-wake-up-from I’d been having.I didn’t have them anymore by the time I got to kindergarten.

  43. Nightmares generally occur during REM sleep, which is a lighter phase of sleep. Night terrors occur in deep sleep (generally stage 4 sleep), so that’s why kids generally don’t wake from night terrors. The advice given in most psychology texts is just to make sure they don’t hurt themselves.

  44. my sister had them, my son had them too (they are not genetically related at all, just a common experience).We just rode it out (my mother put my sister on pillows to thrash) reminding myself that they’re not really scared, they don’t remember anything when they wake up (totally different from a nightmare), the real angst is all in the adults.

  45. @ Stephanie, agreed about the Ferber book. I “permanently borrowed” it from my mom–my brother was 17 when my daughter was born–and it was very reassuring when I was the adult in charge of the terrorized people 😉

  46. My daughter had night terrors from age 3 to 6. They really seemed to correspond to when she needed to empty her bladder. Once we figured this out, we would just carry her to the bathroom. She never fully awoke. And she would sleep peacefully afterword.

  47. I called 911 with my sons first night terror. OMG, it is the scariest thing I have ever experienced. I really thought he was going to die. The emt’s explained night terrors and said they thought that’s what had happened to him. He is only 16 mos (the first one he was about 12 mos)… what worked for us to bring him out of the last one was television. He does not watch much tv, so I think that it was distracting enough maybe? I don’t know, I hope it works next time.

  48. My daughter, now 3, has been having night terrors since she was maybe 9-12mo old. When she was a newborn I noticed that if I had any dairy in my diet it would upset her and she’d get colic-y from my breastmilk. I stopped eating any and she was fine. Then when she was older I’d try introducing milk, every time she had dairy she would wake up in the middle of the night screaming. I didn’t know they were night terrors till she was older, but they were. So I’d stop all dairy and she’d be fine. 4-6mo later I’d try again and again she’d have night terrors. At some point around two she started drinking milk and it didn’t seem to be a problem but I figured out that as she gets older it takes a little longer for it to affect her each time. So instead of happening the first day it would take 2-3 days of dairy. Then maybe 3-4 solid days of dairy, then a week, ect. Now it rarely happens but I think thats partly because she’s adjusted and partly because she doesn’t have much dairy anymore.Her pediatrician had never seen or heard of this happening before but I swear it only happened when she had dairy, and every time she had dairy.
    And god are night terrors awful or what!?! Not being able to do anything, having your child push you away or act scare of you, the screaming, the terror! Ugh.

  49. That is an accurate description. My son used to suffer from night terrors and those types of nightmares are entirely different than your average bad dream, according to his reaction and behavior. I actually had to take him to a doctor because the frequency of his night terrors made him afraid to sleep alone at night. It took about 8 months for his night terrors to disappear, but now he is doing well.

  50. My husband and child share night terrors. The husband’s have subsided considerably since I met him but flare up when he’s very mentally active or stressed. With the child, they are associated with overtired/overstimulation. I can tell by his inconsolable cry. When he first started daycare, it drove me crazy because it was every Tuesday or Wednesday night and then I figured out that he was reacting to the overstimulation from his day. I tried the talking it through method but what actually worked in the end was time. It took 8 weeks of Tuesday/Wednesday nights when he would wake, cry inconsolably, behave manically, and refuse to go back to bed. One of us would take him to the basement and watch cartoons until he fell asleep. Sometimes took up to 4 hours. Now he has periodic episodes but I know the cues and just take him out of the room and we go for a walk around the house which ends with us sitting on the sofa together and I sing or read him back to sleep. 4 hours has been reduced to 20 minutes. I’m a little concerned for the years ahead because my husband was a wild sleep walker and hallucinator. I suspect sleep apnea in his case.

  51. I can even buy a good designed house and lot or open-up a good business in the “real world” using that massive amount of money. All I can say is, that buyer seems to be VERY ADDICTED to the game and I think he needs to see a psychologist.

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