Night terrors are something I didn't really knew existed until Lily started having them. If someone would have told me in the past that their child had night terrors I would of straight away thought they were talking about really bad dreams.
But actually that isn't what a night terror is. The difference between a nightmare and night terror is that a child would wake from a nightmare and remember their scary dream. But with a night terror, they are living their dream and they generally don't fully wake up and so don't remember what they was dreaming.
So actually, night terrors as horrible as they may seem, don't effect our children as much as we think they do. Where as a bad dream could have the effects of making a child not want to sleep and therefor effect them more.
That said, night terrors at times really aren't a nice thing for a parent to have to watch their child go through.
Unfortunately for Lily, she has been having on going night terrors for about a year now. At one point Lily was having these every night and she also has a few different levels of her night terrors.
A typical example of a not too bad night terror would be she would wake up, walk around a little bit, winge and cry a little and then get back into bed and go back to sleep. It is a little more like sleep walking with crying than an actual night terror.
But a typical example of a BAD night terror would be that Lily would be crying loudly, even screaming, she sounds distressed. She is also very confused, walks or even runs around the room and sometimes is asking for me even though she is in my arms. At her very worst point she will end up making her self sick and has often thrown up during one of her night terrors.
Just like sleep walking they say you should never wake them up. Which is something I generally don't do. But I do let her come to me for a cuddle and pick her up if she is raising her arms to be picked up. It is very strange because she seems compleatly out of it, her eyes are sometimes closed, But she still initiates things like cuddles.
Eventually Lily will calm down and generally a big sign for me that she has come out of her night terror is that she suddenly takes a MASSIVE yawn and her body tends to flop a little more. Which I then just say to her "do you want to go back to sleep" she nods which shows she has heard me and she is with it and then I lay her back down. Pretty much in seconds she is back to sleep.
Unfortunately I haven't managed to stop Lily's night terrors but I have learnt quite a few things to cope with them and thanks to advice from Health Visitor Sarah Beeson, I have managed to at least reduce down her night terrors.
So I thought that I would share a few tips with you in hope that it helps anyone out there with a child having night terrors.
Coping with Night Terrors
- First thing I would say is stay calm. When Lily first started to have them I was frantic, and I really don't think it helped her. When I first go in, I go in quietly. If I have to talk to her then I use a quiet calm voice and try not to say to much. I rarely ask her questions that I used to like "whats the matter" and instead say reassuring things like "mummy's here".
- Secondly, let them come to you. Don't run in and grab them. They are half awake and half asleep and so really confused. I generally say "Lily" and when she looks over she see's me with my arms out and she will come to me. Sometimes she will sit on my knee and cuddle but it literally will be like 2 seconds that she is on and then she is back off my knee walking and crying.
- Which brings me to my third point of letting them get on with it. While making sure they are safe, if they want to go for a wander then let them. I have found that it can make it totally worse by shutting her bedroom door behind me where she can't get out. I just follow her around the upstairs rooms and generally only take her back to her room if she signals to be picked up.
- Another thing I sometimes do is sing. Which sometimes helps and sometimes doesn't. I generally sing "You are my Sunshine" and sometimes I think she is so busy focusing on my singing that she slips out of the night terror.
- And my last point is expect the unexpected. Lily half the time doesn't know it is me that is there. So what I do, (which is going to sound really silly) Is say to her " I will go and get Mummy". I then leave the room, wait for 3 seconds and walk in with my arms inviting her for a hug saying "mummy's here". Like I say, it does sound silly, but if your child is generally not knowing that it is you that is with them. It seems to work.
But coping with the night terrors isn't enough and really, we want to make sure they stop or at least reduce down. Night terrors can be something that children just grow out of and there may not be a way to stop them. But every child has them for different reasons and so it is always worth trying some of the following things.
Stopping Night Terrors
- Lets start with the thing that I think has really helped reduce down Lily's night terrors. And that is FOOD! Firstly, I have cut out chocolate before bed. Lily was always having her 5.30pm tea time and having some chocolate straight after. Now I don't let her have any after about 2pm. Chocolate contains caffeine and so this may not be helping Lily to settle into a nice deep sleep. I also now make sure that Lily has an evening snack, and after nursery she has a really decent amount of food because they eat at different times to at home. She will generally have some pasta after nursery (6pm) and may have a yogurt or toast Etc as an evening snack before bed. She has always had biscuits and a drink just before bed but maybe her little tummy just wasn't full enough making her sleep not as good. Although this hasn't fully stopped her night terrors, it has reduced them down to a few times a week compared to every night.
- Another thing I think may have helped is her comfort level. I have now moved Lily from a toddler bed into a single bed where she is much more comfortable. Lily's old cot bed still had one side up due to it being against the wall, and Sarah Beeson though that this may leave a child of Lily's age feeling subconsciously trapped. So if your child is around 3-4 years old, then moving them to a bigger bed may help.
- Something that has been noted is if a child is waking and seeing something that is confusing them. For example faces, they make end up having a night terror due to being half awake and half asleep. Myself I often wake and have lucid dreams where something in my room is moving and I have to rub my eyes and I realise its not moving and its just my chair in the corner of the room. Lily had some faces on her clothing drawers and they faced across from her face. So I thought that this could be what was seeing when she was half asleep. I moved them to the other end of the room. Unfortunately this didn't help but I have heard stories of it helping other children.
- Temperature of the room is another thing you could think about. If your child is too hot, or too cold, they may not be able to drop into a deep sleep and this could contribute to a night terror. But do be aware that a child will have sweats in a night terror and so this doesn't indicate that they are too hot. I just tested this by having the room nice and toastie one night, having it cold one night and then having it mid temperature one night. None worked for me but that doesn't mean it might not work for your child.
- One more thing that could be a factor to your child's night terrors is them being over tired. I did start putting Lily to bed earlier and initially it worked and she had a week with out them. Which made me think I had cracked the issue. But unfortunately she just wakes up an hour earlier now and so she can still get over tired. Over tired ness isn't an easy one to solve. We all know we can't control what time they get up in the morning and it can be at times hard to get them to sleep. But if you do at least try and reduce the late nights, I think it could help. If Lily goes to bed at say 9pm, then with out a doubt she will end up having a night terror.
Night terrors are unfortunately a bit of a mystery. In Lily's case, I think it may be something she just grows out of but I am at least happy that I can control them a little better when she has them and also reduce down the amount she has.
I would like to say a big Thank you to Sarah Beeson for all her advice on the subject.
I would love to know if you have done anything different that could help or even stop a night terror?