I listened in awe as my friend described watching her son experience a night terror. It gave me chills to think of seeing one of my own girls in a night terror and being helpless in stopping it or comforting her. She described it such (this is a paraphrase):
We had gone to the high school football game and so the boys went to bed late. Then after just an hour or so, he (the younger about 20 months) started screaming. We went to his room and tried to calm him down. His eyes were glossed over. He was not responding to anything we said or did. His body was completely limp.
After a little bit we finally got him to wake up. But he seemed out of it. It took about a half hour before he could move his arms. We tried to hand him his pacifier and he raised his arm, but aimed low. He kept reaching for it and missing.
We packed up the boys and took him to the emergency room. After waiting a very long time, they were finally seen by the doctor. By then he had pretty much returned to normal. We explained the episode to the doctor. He quickly diagnosed it as a night terror and sent us on our way. He spent less than a minute looking at our son and then left.
They felt so unsatisfied by the doctor’s evaluation that they were sharing their story in the hopes of understanding better what happened to their young son. After speaking with a professor at the medical school, they were reassured that it was a night terror and that it didn’t harmful to their son.
I felt for my friend and the fear she encountered during this experience. I did a little research of my own and found some interesting information on night terrors and how to reduce the risk of night terrors recurring.
- Evaluate whether there’s stress in your child’s life. The emotion of stress can build up and then manifest itself as a night terror.
- Ensure your child is getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep seems to trigger night terrors. In fact, it is the most common trigger.
- Develop a consistent sleep routine. Stick with a consistent time to go to bed then prepare for bedtime with the same activities each night. These help soothe the child, releasing any stress from the day and get them in a comfortable mood for bed.
- Offer a balanced, nutritious diet. Getting a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins will help the body stay balanced which in turn helps your child navigate other stresses successfully.
One last note on night terrors. The easiest way to distinguish between a night terror and a nightmare is that a night terror usually occurs at the beginning of the night when the child has only been asleep for an hour or so. Nightmares typically occur closer to morning after a full night’s sleep.