I have been wanting to write this post for a long time now, mainly to see if anyone else suffers from this problem and also to help those who do. I have been a long term sufferer of night terrors and it seems that I have now passed it down to my youngest son who struggles to sleep every night.
|Image: Laure Fauvel|
It usually starts around midnight when I am awoken by Thomas screaming my name or he is stood at the end of my bed crying. Sometimes they can happen after only half an hour of being asleep so he will come and join me down stairs for a bit of Disney to clear away the bad memories of the dream. At first I was hoping these were just one off nightmares caused by watching a film that may have frightened him a little such as Iron man or his favourite Superman. I don't let him watch films that I deem unsuitable, only 12A and below are allowed but I was questioning whether to let him watch his superhero films as the baddies may be a little scary for a six year old. However, even after the DVDs were hidden away, the nightmares were still increasing. After some advice from the doctor it turns out these are not night mares but night terrors. Whats the difference? Nightmares are upsetting dreams that happen during REM (dream) sleep. Night terrors occur during your deepest period of sleep. In other words, during a night terror, the person is actually asleep according to his brain even if the eyes are still open. Most people have no recollection of them. Sometimes Tom's night terrors are so bad that I have found him in bed still asleep but shouting 'help me' while punching at the air. I grabbed him to wake him up in fear he may hurt himself but I have since learnt that you shouldn't wake them. Apparently this is because they will be afraid to fall back to sleep and if they do manage to, they may slip back into the same state.
Along the way, I have picked up a few helpful tips for handling your child's night terrors which I wanted to share with you:
1. Keep Calm
Your child will more than likely have no recollection of their night terror therefore they will not be traumatised. Of course, as parents, we want to comfort our child and keep them safe so the best way to do this is to not wake the child but repeat 'Mummy/daddy is here' in a peaceful way. If they are awake after wards, a soothing hug, kiss and reassurance is best.
2. Try to minimise day to day stresses
Childhood stresses can be caused by any situation that requires the child to adapt or change. Anxiety can be the main cause of night terrors. Try and hold off from starting new activities such as toilet training or clubs. Tom became stressed at the thought of starting swimming lessons so we have decided to hold him back until he is ready. Children can also become stressed at situations they see as negative changes like a new school, house move, family separation, illness or a loss of a family member. Also, in day to day life, use 'positive discipline' instead of exposing them to yelling, timeouts or other stressful discipline.
3. Make sure they get enough sleep
I have found that keeping to a regular/comforting bedtime routine can help to calm the terrors. If my son goes to bed too late he will be over tired which will make him more susceptible to them. Also I like to include a warm bath, bedtime stories and hugs to create a calming environment. Try not to get the child 'wound up' as I put it. Prevent things that may get your child over excited/hyper which could be music, TV, tickling, loudness, or musical toys.
4. Minimise noises in the home that may wake your child
Night terrors can occur if your child is awakened during deep sleep. Things that could wake them include outside noises from the street (we have a busy road outside our home), TV set too loud, heading upstairs a little heavy footed, toilet flushes, showers, talking near their bedroom etc. A white noise machine has been proven to help with sleep, I am definitely thinking of investing in one.
5. Keep your child cool
I found that night terrors are worse in the spring/summer months, especially as tom likes to cover himself in teddies and blankets. I have also stopped buying footed onsies which caused him to over heat a little. A fan in the bed room also helped.
6. Be aware that colds/tonsillitis could be a trigger
If your child is feeling the effects of winter, they could be coughing and finding breathing difficult. Illness causes broken sleep hence the increased risk of a terror.
7. Wake your child 15 minutes before
I hate to wake my son but I was told it could help him if I wake him fifteen minutes before the terrors usually occur. It will hopefully interrupt the cycle especially if they are very regular.
8. Do not talk about their episode the next day
It is very unlikely they will remember their terrors. If you talk about them, it could make them too nervous/scared to fall asleep.
I am still waiting for Tom to outgrow his terrors but they are not as regular as they once were. We have gone from every night to twice sometimes three times a week which is good going in my opinion. Has your child experienced night terrors? Can you add any other helpful tips?